Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.

State failed Terrell Peterson, Barnes says at bill signing
Ron Martz - Staff
Friday, April 7, 2000

Gov. Roy Barnes admitted Thursday that the state failed to provide proper safeguards for 5-year-old Terrell Peterson in his strongest statement to date of who was responsible for the death of the Atlanta youngster.

Barnes called the story of Terrell's death after a brief life of abuse and neglect "the tragic tale of the state's failure --- of our failure --- to protect him."

Barnes made the remarks at Hughes-Spalding Children's Hospital in Atlanta before signing into law four bills passed by the General Assembly this year, three of which are designed to provide a broader safety net for Georgia children at risk from abuse or neglect.

Sandra Wood, executive director of the Georgia Council on Child Abuse, said Terrell's death "was a case where multiple systems designed to protect him failed to do so."

Terrell died in January 1998 despite repeated reports to the state Division of Family and Children Services that he and his siblings were being neglected or abused. He weighed only 29 pounds when he died. The boy's grandmother, aunt and the aunt's boyfriend have been charged in his death.

Terrell became the poster child for a series of bills in the Legislature that their sponsors hope will better protect children and revamp DFACS. The action by the lawmakers came following a series of stories in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this year that cited the deaths of hundreds of youngsters in Georgia after they had become known to state officials because of reports of abuse or neglect.

One bill named after Terrell gives doctors the authority to take temporary custody of children they believe are in imminent danger from abuse or neglect.

Barnes said doctors "need this authority to stop abuse. They are our first line of defense, because abused children fall first into their hands, before police officers or caseworkers or social workers ever get involved."

Barnes also signed into law his bill creating the Child Advocate Office to oversee DFACS, and a piece of legislation that makes county DFACS directors more accountable to the state and the commissioner of the Department of Human Resources.

A fourth bill signed into law Thursday is designed to stop discrimination by insurance companies against women who have been victims of domestic violence, a practice known as "pinklining." The new laws take effect July 1.

Barnes said he has no timetable for naming the child advocate but hopes to do so "within the next two to three months."

Barnes also said that a GBI inquiry into the deaths of hundreds of children that he ordered in January "should be complete in the next few weeks."

There have been no arrests in the case, Barnes said, but "we have referred several cases for review to the attorney general's office" to determine if there is enough evidence for prosecution.

Jeff DiSantis, spokesman for Attorney General Thurbert Baker, declined to provide any specifics of the cases, saying "the investigation is still ongoing and we are assisting the GBI in the review of these cases."

[Back to Terrell Peterson Pages] [GAHSC Home Page] brought to you in partnership with AccessAtlanta
© 1999, 2000 Cox Interactive Media