Governor wants more foster care participation

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

   Gov. Phil Bredesen has established a new Children's Cabinet designed to initiate a foster-care recruitment campaign and mobilize child advocates to better address children's issues.
   According to Bredesen, 10,000 children on any given day are in the custody of the state, while there are only 3,500 foster care outlets available for those children.
   "He (Bredesen) signed the executive order to form the Children's Cabinet on Child Advocacy Day last Tuesday on Capitol Hill. He was the keynote speaker at that event. He created the cabinet, and they had their first meeting the next day," said Lydia Lenker of the governor's communication's office.
   The cabinet consists of 12 commissioners from five state departments as well as child advocates from across Tennessee who will meet for the next four to five weeks to locate children who have "fallen through the cracks" and find ways to meet their needs.
   "I want us to take a completely different tack when it comes to addressing children's issues," Bredesen said. "Instead of everyone operating independently from their own window on the world, I want to get everyone working together, putting the full muscle of state government to work on these issues."
   Bredesen, whose wife, Andrea Conte, is a member of the Children's Cabinet, challenged communities across the state to view their role differently, citing the recruitment of more foster care families as a prime example.
   "The state can and should do more to address issues like this, but we also need communities to step up and meet us half-way," said Bredesen. "In government, we are famous for launching public-private partnerships in areas like economic development. There's absolutely no reason that we can't do the same to help children by working collectively to launch a foster-care recruitment campaign."
   Bredesen said the issue of foster care recruitment will be one of many issues he will ask the Children's Cabinet to look into immediately -- including a range of issues that impact not only children in the state's custody, but all children statewide.
   "We can't continue to think money is the only solution. Better managing the existing resources must also be part of the equation," he said.
   Members of the governor's Children's Cabinet are:
   -- Bonnie Beneke, Executive Director of the Tenn. Chapter of Children's Advocacy Centers
   -- Gina Betts, Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health
   -- Andrea Conte, First Lady
   -- Tam Gordon, Governor's Special Projects Director
   -- Dr. Eddie Hamilton, pediatrician and member of the Tenn. Pediatric Association
   -- Betty Hastings, President and Board Chairperson of the Tenn. Foster and Adoptive Care Association
   -- Judge Steve Hornsby, Hardeman County General Sessions Court
   -- Gina Lodge, Commissioner of the Department of Human Services
   -- Mike Miller, Commissioner of the Department of Children's Services
   -- Linda O'Neal, Executive Director of the Tenn. Commission on Children and Youth
   -- Kenneth Robinson, Commissioner of the Department of Health
   -- Lana Seivers, Commissioner of the Department of Education