The director of Georgia's state agency for child welfare services said changes to a bill approved by a Senate panel Thursday evening could put millions of dollars in federal funding at risk.
Republican senators approved a change to a 100-page bill intended to modernize the state’s adoption laws. The change would allow private foster and adoption agencies to refuse services based on their “mission as evidence by its written policy, statement or other document.”
Bobby Cagle, director of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, told the state Senate committee Thursday the bill could violate federal laws.
“As an agency head, I am bound to comply with all state and federal laws,” he said. “Federal law in this instance also includes federal anti-discrimination laws.”
According to Georgia DFCS, more than 11,500 children were in the state’s custody at the end of September 2015.
Ashley Fielding, a spokeswoman for the agency, said federal funding makes up about 60 percent of the state's child welfare budget. In fiscal year 2017, the state received more than $100 million in federal funds for its foster care budget, she said.
Cagle said the state contracts currently with 89 child placement agencies, including those that are affiliated with religious organizations.
Supporters of the proposal say it would allow the state to contract with more child placement agencies. Critics say it would lead to discrimination, including allowing agencies to deny same-sex couples who want to adopt.
The proposal could further strain a system that tries to place hundreds of children into care and negatively affect children, said Melissa Carter, executive director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University.
“This could very much harm them in the disruption of our placement protocols, in curtailing the resources that we currently have, and frankly, in conveying a sense to any given child that ‘you are unwanted’ – again, and again, and again.”