Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steve Teske
ATLANTA — Two of the 21 members appointed to the governor’s Child Welfare Reform Council this week represent Clayton County, including Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steve Teske.
Gov. Deal announced the council’s formation in March and the appointments were released Wednesday. Deal created the council to improve the child welfare system and better protect Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens. Modeled after the Criminal Justice Reform Council, this council will complete a comprehensive review of the Division of Family and Children Services and advise the governor on possible executive agency reforms and legislative fixes if necessary, officials said.
“We have no greater responsibility than caring for our most vulnerable populations,” said Deal. “If we do nothing else, we must always do everything in our power to assure that our children are safe and that they get their best shot at a good life. I am confident this council will produce meaningful and thoughtful reform recommendations.”
Teske has been at the forefront of juvenile justice reform for years and said he was honored to further extend that dedication to change. Deal also appointed Teske to serve on the Criminal Justice Reform Council two years ago.
“I am honored to serve the governor in this critical endeavor to develop and implement a system that prevents suffering and promotes positive development for children,” he said.
Teske said he is pleased that fellow Clayton County resident Tyra Farmer Walker, director of WinShape Homes, a foster home ministry of Chick-fil-A, was also appointed.
“I support WinShape Homes as a juvenile court judge and I believe that the work of Mr. S. Truett Cathy and Chick-fil-A will provide invaluable insight into understanding the best practices in foster care and adoption services,” he said.
Walker shared Teske’s enthusiasm for the appointment.
“I look forward to serving on the Child Welfare Reform Council that Gov. Deal has established,” she said. “Georgia deserves our best practices and policies. This council brings a lot of wisdom, discernment and experience to the table that will help us develop reforms ensuring a safe, nurturing and appropriate home for every child in need.”
Walker has spent more than 20 years with Cathy’s organization, which he started to break the cycle of foster care, she said.
“Truett’s vision was to give children a family as close to a natural home as possible, with two full-time parents who would see them through to adulthood, and still be there when they were grown,” said Walker. “Truett wanted to break the cycle of children being moved from foster home to foster home so he personally took guardianship of many children to make that happen.”
Under her direction, WinShape has grown from four to 12 homes, including nine in Georgia, two in Tennessee and one in Alabama. The children are cared for by 24 houseparents who have an average of 15 years of service with WinShape, said Walker.
“Two of our parents were foster children who grew up in a WinShape home,” she said. “We’ve provided homes for more than 375 children who graduated high school and went on to college and technical schools. They now have families of their own and have broken that cycle and are raising their own children.”
A legislative effort backed by the Senate to privatize foster care — and use homes such as those provided by WinShape and organizations like it — failed in the House. However, foster care isn’t the problem, said Teske. The council will be tasked with examining the child welfare system as a whole.
“I am glad to see that the council will look at the entire child welfare system and will not be limited to foster care because the recent child deaths did not occur in foster care — they occurred at the front door of the system,” he said.
Teske wants to see the council also address “cross-over youth” as a means to reduce the number of troubled kids coming through Department of Juvenile Justice. In addition to his multiple state and community roles, Teske is a member of Criminal Justice Reform Commission.
“As a member of the Commission, I hope to bring the perspective of how we should address the needs of ‘cross-over youth’ — those kids who have suffered trauma at the hands of their parents, been removed from home and now their trauma is manifested into delinquent conduct,” he said. “We need to find ways to disrupt this pathway to delinquency.”
Deal named Stephanie Blank, a longtime champion of children and education, chairwoman of the council. She will work in conjunction with the Governor’s Office and the Department of Human Services, he said.