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Remarks As Delivered By Governor Sonny Perdue: 2003 First Lady's Summit on Children

Wednesday, August 27, 2003  Contact: Office of Communications 404-651-7774


Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Georgia Public Television Studios, Atlanta, GA


Atlanta - Good morning. I'm delighted to join Mary in welcoming you to the First Lady's Summit on Our Children.

Caring for and meeting the needs of Georgia's children is a matter very close to both our hearts. We believe that providing for the safety, care and nurture of our most vulnerable children, including those in state custody, is a moral obligation we all share.

Children come into state custody from many backgrounds, for many different reasons, and with many different needs. Of the more than 14,000 children in state custody, over half live in foster family settings. More than 1,200 are in group homes. Nearly 3,000 are temporarily placed with relatives. But regardless of age and regardless of their situation, all of these children have one need in common - the need to be loved and cared for.

Mary and I have had the wonderful opportunity to serve as foster parents for several newborns awaiting permanent placement. To touch a child's life, even for a short time, can be greatly rewarding.

Certainly not everyone is situated or able to serve as foster parent. But we can all in some way contribute to the well-being of Georgia's children. There are countless opportunities to serve, in every community, in every town.

Mary has organized this Summit to raise awareness of the needs of Georgia's children but also to inspire greater public involvement in children's issues and to demonstrate to every Georgian that there are simple, direct, concrete ways that each of us can do something to help our state's children.

I know better than anyone that once Mary takes on a challenge, mountains are going to be moved. She is a wonderful wife, a loving mother of four children, and grandmother of three- a foster parent. And she was my First Lady long before I was Governor. I am so proud of her for taking on this campaign to enhance the well-being of Georgia's children. And I'll be first in line to help any way I can.

Now I would like to talk about a recent tragedy; the death of young Kyshawn Punter. For Mary and me, one death is too many. As parents we are stunned and we weep for young lives needlessly lost. As makers of public policy, we have to address failures within the DFACS system.

After an investigation, the case workers who failed to comply with proper procedures have been fired. Every single one of the county's cases is being reviewed. In addition, critical policies are being reviewed.

Specifically, DHR is evaluating the criteria for closing cases. We must ensure that the safety and risks to the child are better assessed. And that more reliable safety plans are put in place to protect our children. We must continue working to refine policies and ensure that those policies are followed. That, of course is not enough.

Part of the problem is giving case workers the tools they need to do their jobs - the right technology. Many DFACS offices are equipped with old technology that hampers efficiency and effectiveness. That seems so odd in this day and age, but they are. Caseworkers need to use two, sometimes three different computer systems to track and report on their caseload. They spend hours in court making notes that they must later type into a computer. That same yellow pad goes with them into the field.

We're going to change that starting now. My office is working with DFCS to equip their caseworkers with 21st Century technology. By the end of this year, every DFACS office will be connected to the internet. Starting in October, we will begin issuing one of these tablet PCs to caseworkers. Every case worker will have one by next April. These will replace those yellow pads and pencils and allow caseworkers to keep track of those in their care and share that information seamlessly with new software on new computers.

I spoke earlier this year with Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. He has given Georgia a waiver to move ahead with an improved child welfare information system; enhancements that will allow for greater productivity and better case planning tools.

Those of you who work in this field will recognize the benefits of linking the Case Plan Reporting System with our Internal Information Systems. We are working tirelessly to get it online as quickly as possible.

I also want to assure parents that, even in these tough economic times we have not lost sight of our priorities. Within DHR, the highest priority is Child Protective Services. Program rankings in my budget will reflect this priority. Yet, there is another hard truth in these stories. It is this. All the government programs in the world can never replace good parents.

If parents attempt to deceive our frontline caseworkers, unfortunately, they may occasionally succeed. If they place a child with a dangerous adult behind the system's back, tragedy can follow.

All of us in this room are dedicated to avoiding such tragedies. All of us are going to work hard to keep kids from harm.

I thank all of you for being here and I want to thank the finest First Lady Georgia has ever had for working so hard, caring so much and bringing all of you together here today.

Thank you.