November 14, 2017 10:00 AM
Bobby Cagle is retiring as the head of Georgia’s Department of Family and Child Services. He’s penned the following Op-Ed to discuss the agency that he’s handing over to new leadership.
Four years ago, Georgia DFCS was in a state of crisis.
For months, headlines blared the agency’s deficiencies at the time: seemingly unending backlogs of unprocessed food stamp applications; phone lines that led Georgians in need to nowhere; fresh-out-of-college case managers carrying caseloads in child welfare that were so burdensome even a trio of the most experienced social workers would struggle to manage them.
And then there were the children who died at the hands of their caregivers, despite warning signs and calls to the agency for help. Those were the hardest for all of us to swallow. It’s why we all remember the names of Emani Moss and Eric Forbes and Heaven Woods, even though their lives were cut too short to allow them to be known for anything more than the manner of their deaths.
In 2014, DFCS was, no doubt, facing the greatest crisis in recent memory. But Governor Deal wouldn’t let those headlines be the end of the story for Georgia. And, thanks to his leadership, and the incredible outpouring of support from the General Assembly and our partners in the nonprofit and private sectors, Georgia is now drawing the blueprint to become a State of Hope for families in need.
It is clear to me today: Georgia DFCS is not the same agency it was in 2014.
Families who come to the agency for economic support through the food stamp program are receiving better service. Children who are reported as victims of abuse or neglect can expect a consistently prompt response from child protective services. And, as we have seen a significant reduction in staff turnover—from upwards of 38 percent to 29 percent—since 2014, we can begin to expect that our case managers will make critical case decisions that only experience can inform.
Where “DFCS” was once a four-letter word, the Division now actively seeks to become a regular part of community conversations—even the difficult ones—because families are less likely to fall through the cracks when communities are actively engaged in their success.
I’m proud to have been a part of this story of redemption for DFCS. But let me be clear: the success is only partly mine. It belongs to those of you who interact with families every day—those of you who knock on doors to be sure children are safe, who spend days on the phone to find a child a place to call home and who answer the call when a family needs help putting food on the table or supporting their medical needs.
Our progress would also not be possible without the support of stakeholders—legislators, private partners and local leaders—and their commitment to improving the lives of Georgia’s children and families.
After three and a half years working toward reform, my decision to leave Georgia for another opportunity was a very difficult one. But, ultimately, I felt the progress we’d made was so significant that the Division is prime for the next phase of reform.
As you know, Virginia “Ginger” Pryor, who currently serves as my Chief of Staff, will succeed me as Interim Director of the Division, starting next week. Many of you know, she has been by my side as we developed and implemented plans for the Division’s reform. I know she is the natural next step for an agency that has moved from a state of crisis to one that is stable enough to think strategically about its future serving children and families.
She is a visionary who has the perspective and experience one can only develop after working with 47 different child welfare jurisdictions, as she has in her 27-year career. She has encouraged innovation and brought unconventional partners to the table as we developed our vision to make Georgia a State of Hope—a place where every member of a community is engaged in building up the children and families who live there.
If the last three years are any predictor, the Division’s future successes will hinge on stability of its leadership and an incessant effort to engage every corner of society in strengthening the most vulnerable families of this state.
And, given our accomplishments and the confidence I have in the leadership that will remain after I am gone, I believe more than ever that Georgia can build the best children and family services agency in the world.