Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.
Letters, Faxes & E-Mail: TERRELL PETERSON: Tragedy prompts policy changes
Ralph Mitchell - For the Journal-Constitution
Sunday October 24, 1999
The death of Terrell Peterson ("Did 5-year-old Terrell have to die?" Oct. 17) is a tragedy mourned by our entire community. While pending litigation prevents the Fulton County Department of Family and Children Services from responding to specifics regarding his case, it is important to note significant policy and procedural changes have occurred that will strengthen our ability to decrease the likelihood of such tragedies reoccurring.
Supervisors are making more intensive reviews of case activity, along with ongoing examination of case records by the agency's internal Quality Assurance Section.
All five DFACS area offices must conduct internal meetings on all cases in which the status changes. This procedure facilitates better internal communication and offers multiple opportunities for case review.
This department conducts mandatory administrative meetings on all child fatality and serious injury cases.
This department continues to seek more and better ways to strengthen its relationships with the police, hospitals, juvenile court and other mandated reporters. The creation of the Child Advocacy Center by the Fulton County District Attorney's Office, in partnership with Fulton DFACS, is an example of this.
Fulton DFACS takes its mission as a protector of children seriously. As a public agency, we hold the public trust and would never intentionally mislead or misrepresent facts about our involvement in any case we handle in the arena of child protective services or any other area.
However, the statement issued on June 3,1998 by Fulton DFACS was inaccurate. We are an organization of people serving people. Human judgment is not always perfect, but we are absolutely committed to continuous improvement.
Mitchell is administrator of Fulton County Department of Family and Children Services.
Letters, Faxes & E-Mail: TERRELL PETERSON: Judge's actions should be called into question
Robert C. Rhoads - For the Journal-Constitution
Sunday October 24, 1999
The article &quo;Did 5-year-old Terrell have to die?&quo; was a valid indictment of a disgraceful system. Apparently, Fulton County DFACS is more interested in hiding internal failings and protecting employees than fulfilling its public trust.
Another concern is Judge Catherine Malicki's arbitrary dismissal of charges &quo;because the victim was not in court.&quo; Malicki was the one and apparently only official at that time in Terrell's tortured life with the authority to rule in his behalf. Instead, her only action was to dismiss his case because he was not standing before her
Did she expect this child to find his own way to her bench if no adult brought him? Is not her conduct as questionable as the DFACS decision makers?
ROBERT C. RHOADS
Rhoads is a retiree living in Roswell.
Letters, Faxes & E-Mail: TERRELL PETERSON: Agency at fault
Becky Massey - For the Journal-Constitution
Sunday October 24, 1999
I am appalled at the incompetence of Fulton County DFACS, which appears to have contributed significantly to the death of this child. What's even more appalling is the very real possibility that more cases like Terrell's have been swept under the rug by Fulton DFACS officials.
These people should be less concerned with public relations and more concerned with the welfare of the children they supposedly protect.
Massey, of Atlanta, is a first-year law student at Georgia State University.
Letters, Faxes & E-Mail: Agencies failed abused child
Jazmine King - For the Journal-Constitution
Sunday November 14, 1999
I would like to think the Fulton County Department of Family and Children Services tried to save poor little Terrell Peterson from his out-of- control grandmother who was accused of beating him with several belts and shoes, but they didn't ("State under fire in 5-year-old's death," Page One, Nov. 10).
Terrell should have been placed in foster care, away from the harm of his family.
Putting children in foster care is not always the right thing, but in this case it probably would have been better for Terrell. If Terrell's social worker had taken him to court and allowed him to testify against his grandmother, he might still be alive.
The state and county could handle situations like this better, especially if neighbors have made frequent reports about the abusive handling of a child.
Jazmine, 12, of Stone Mountain, is a home-schooler in seventh grade.
Letters, Faxes & E-Mail: CHILD WELFARE: Lawsuit takes needed resources away
Jewel Rubin - For the Journal-Constitution
Thursday November 18, 1999
I have been following the story about the lawsuit arising from the tragedy of Terrell Peterson's death. ("Suit demands child welfare reforms" Local News, Nov. 11). I believe that pursuing a lawsuit against Georgia's child welfare system is a wrong-headed approach to solving the problem. I applaud Keenan's intention to "change the system." I would like to know more about the caseloads and resources that the child protective services workers have. It seems to me that the money that will be needed to deal with this lawsuit will mean even fewer resources available to take care of the children who are in the child protective services system, and that will most likely perpetuate the problem.
Rubin, a media manager and prospective adoptive parent, lives in Roswell.
Letters, Faxes & E-Mail: DFACS: Victimized by system
Davina L. Gordy - For the Journal-Constitution
Sunday December 12, 1999
I can't begin to describe the outrage that came over me when I saw the name of my niece, Whitney Jordan, mentioned in Jane Hansen's article about abused and neglected children ("Georgia's forgotten children," Page One, Dec. 5). She was neither. She was a victim --- a victim of a system that decided that she was not important. The Medical College of Georgia released Whitney's mother less than a week earlier and warned child welfare workers that she had talked about killing herself and others. Why wasn't the family informed? In my opinion, the medical college could have prevented Whitney's death.
And I won't forget the role played by the child welfare services in this tragedy. Did no one feel that the family should have been notified? How can a system which is supposed to protect our children just stand by with information such as this and let a child die?
Whitney's death was and continues to be a terrible ordeal for all who knew her. She was the sunshine in every life she touched. How many more children must die before Georgia can find someone to protect them?
DaVINA L. GORDY
Letters, Faxes & E-Mail: DFACS: Caseworkers save thousands
Don Newman - For the Journal-Constitution
Sunday December 12, 1999
I was offended by the sensationalism displayed in "Georgia's forgotten children." I am a court-appointed special advocate for the Rockdale County Juvenile Court. My dealings with DFACS workers have proven to me that they are caring, dedicated and diligent professionals.
DFACS workers investigate thousands of cases each year and have intervened and probably saved the lives of thousands of children. The average DFACS caseworker has 20-50 children to look after besides investigating new referrals. I agree, 884 child deaths in six years is not acceptable. I believe, however, that problem won't be solved by pointing a finger of blame at people who are responsible for this number being as low as it is.
Newman is a communications technician living in Conyers.
Letters, Faxes & E-Mail: DFACS: Expose these horrors so that public can act
Leslie Sprayberry - For the Journal-Constitution
Sunday December 12, 1999
I read "Georgia's forgotten children" with tears in my eyes. Why is it that we hear more about animal cruelty than we do about the children who are being abused every day? Why are the death records of these children sealed? To protect the parents? Give me a break! I think these parents need to be exposed. For every case that gets media exposure, there are hundreds more we never hear of. The more great reporters like Jane Hansen uncover these stories, the safer these children will be. Please keep publishing information on how the public can help.
Sprayberry, of Acworth, is an administrative assistant.
Constitution: Reader responses: Allegations don't reflect on all DFACS workers
Edward Ashman - For the Journal-Constitution
Tuesday January 18, 1999
The tragedy of children whose lives have been lost after warnings of neglect and abuse went unheeded or while actually in the care of a state agency is abhorrent. The resulting outrage that has led to the seizure of welfare agency files must lead to measures designed to fulfill Georgia's responsibility to fully protect endangered children ("GBI seizes welfare records in probe of 13 kids' deaths," Page One, Jan. 12).
However, these shameful revelations should not cause all DFACS workers to be demonized. As a member of a DeKalb citizens' panel that reviews the cases of children under DFACS care, I have observed that the vast majority of caseworkers are well-educated and dedicated to the welfare of each child.
They also are underpaid, at-risk emotionally and physically and burdened with case loads that are far too heavy. Their jobs are difficult enough without all being condemned for the terrible oversights of the few.
Ashman, of Decatur, is a sales representative.
Journal: Letters: DFACS director's attitude reflects flaws in the system
Dr. Donna R. Hughes - For the Journal-Constitution
Tuesday January 18, 1999
The revelations regarding the statewide Department of Family and Children Services tragedy are of great concern to every citizen with half a heart. Fulton County DFACS Director Ralph Mitchell was recently quoted as saying, "We work in a flawed system with systemic problems. I have 1,500 (employees); I cannot micromanage them all. If a Coca-Cola driver runs a red light and kills someone, the newspaper never goes against the head of Coke" ("Fulton at heart of abuse inquiry," Page One, Jan. 13).
This attitude is at the heart of the problem with the system. A director of any program whose mission is to protect the well-being of children should never project the "oh, well" attitude manifested in this quote. The loss of any human life can never be taken lightly. That soul is irreplaceable, and a life taken out of neglect or abuse from parents who are under investigation is a crime.
Even if a court decides that our laws cannot find sufficient evidence to prove guilt, there is a higher court that every person failing to do the very best for these children will face. If Mitchell cannot say that he did everything within his power to save these children, then it doesn't matter whether they were lost to a "driver," a parent or a caseworker. It is his personal responsibility to make sure that every situation he knows to be wrong is being changed.
DR. DONNA R. HUGHES
Hughes, of Douglasville, is a retired physician.
Constitution: Reader responses: Low salaries show misplaced priorities
Valerie Gilbert - For the Journal-Constitution
Wednesday January 26, 1999
Hallelujah! "Boost DFACS salaries" (Jan. 19) was a wonderful editorial. We would all like for the world to be a better place, but reality makes us face the truth. When you are overworked and underpaid, you are focused on keeping your head above water, both professionally and personally. I think it a shame that the salaries paid police officers, social workers and firefighters are so low, considering that they put their lives on the line for the rest of us every day. Until we as a country take the time to distinguish between what is of utmost importance, tragedies such as these involving DFACS children will continue to plague us.
Gilbert, a technician and former social worker, lives in Alpharetta.
Journal: Letters: DFACS needs more resources and assistance, not criticism
Carol C. Eakins - For the Journal-Constitution
Wednesday January 26, 1999
As a former DFACS employee, I too am concerned about our Division of Family and Children Services. What I am even more concerned about is the governor's proposal to fix the problem. His idea of creating a separate child advocacy office to oversee DFACS will only serve to meet the needs of the critics who have already cried foul and are demanding workers be fired immediately.
The $300,000 he proposes to use for the creation of this office would be better used to significantly increase the salaries of caseworkers, put in place an employee assistance program to help them deal with the stress of their profession, and create an employee pool to utilize when workers have to be on extended leave. By raising salaries, the state should attract more competent, committed workers.
The availability of an employee assistance program would offer immediate help to staffers in crisis and possibly decrease health problems that plague caseworkers. Finally, the use of an employee pool would allow caseloads to remain covered when workers would have to take any kind of extended leave or when a position is vacant.
Whatever is done needs to be done quickly. Once this year ends, the lifetime TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) benefits will end, and when it does, we will see more neglect and abuse.
CAROL C. EAKINS, Covington
Constitution: Reader responses: Job transfer reveals bloated government
Paul Sternberg - For the Journal-Constitution
Friday January 28, 1999
In a story on the problems in the Georgia Department of Human Resources and its handling of the case of Terrell Peterson, DHR Secretary Audrey Horne said her agency has "already acted to improve child protection" by transferring 171 staff members into caseworker jobs ("We failed this child," Page One, Jan. 22). How can this be?
Just imagine what a better job could have been done if 171 more caseworkers had been in the field in past years. How can they continue to run these welfare programs, having so many people that 171 of them can be quickly converted into new positions without causing any great problems? I wonder how they will be trained or if they are all previous caseworkers who were given do-nothing positions as a reward for prior "loyal" service.
Sternberg, of Marietta, is an art appraiser.
Journal: Letters: In My Opinion: DFACS workers kind, caring
Beverly Sewell - For the Journal-Constitution
Monday January 31, 1999
Although the news has been full of heartbreaking stories of children who have been abused or even killed, it is simply not right to heap all the blame for this terrible situation on Division of Family and Children Service staffers. Sure, as in any profession, there are some weak links, some incompetents. But my experience has been that the vast majority of DFACS workers are kind, caring and extremely conscientious.
No one goes into social work for the money or prestige. The job requires long hours, disappointment, frustration from not being able to do enough, and mountains of paperwork.
A relative of mine is a DFACS caseworker in one of the counties where records were confiscated. I know that she has spent many a night at the hospital bedside of a victimized child. I have seen her cry over the plight of a child that she was unable to help.
I know she has bought Christmas and birthday presents with her own money. I have seen her work herself to exhaustion, trying to attend to the needs of every child assigned to her. She's no exception. Every DFACS worker that I have ever met is the same way --- kind, caring and overextended.
In the midst of a public uproar over such an emotionally charged issue, blame is sure to fall somewhere, and in this case, DFACS is the most obvious target. DFACS is a beleaguered agency of overworked, underfunded people trying to take care of the needs of too many unwanted, uncared-for children.
Gov. Roy Barnes can call for all the investigations he wants to keep media attention away from himself and state officials, but that won't touch the real problem. DFACS needs help now.
BEVERLY SEWELL, Marietta
Beverly Sewell is an artist who works with her husband building homes. Originally from Louisiana, she has lived in the Atlanta area for 27 years.
Journal: Letters: Open records
Victoria Pierce - For the Journal-Constitution
Tuesday February 1, 1999
"Child protection legislation would create new problems" (Jan. 26) was a great editorial. As case history tells us, society cannot depend on professionals or government agency staffers to report child abuse, but a little sunshine and independent awareness would go a long way in correcting heinous child abuse atrocities.
Superior and juvenile court judges routinely seal records, including admissions of battering and incest, from public scrutiny. Because of financial incentives, many physicians hide files from the court and testify as expert witnesses on behalf of abusers. What makes legislators think enacting the proposed Terrell Peterson Act will change anything?
Pierce, of Smyrna, is regional director of the National Alliance for Family Court Justice, a volunteer group focused on wrongful custody decisions.
Journal: Letters: More bureaucracy
John Turcotte - For the Journal-Constitution
Tuesday March 14, 1999
The legislation to create a Child Advocate Office creates yet another level of bureaucracy in our bloated state government ("House gives nod to Child Advocate Office bill," Local News, March 7). What amazed me was the 171-1 vote in the House. What happened to the Republicans, the partisans of smaller government?
Turcotte is a Marietta businessman.
Constitution: READER RESPONSES: Speak up for kids
Tuesday May 16, 2000
Bravo to The Atlanta Constitution for demanding better of those in power than "cliche responses" to hard questions about why abused and neglected children are languishing and dying in the system ("Buck stops with DFACS in preventing kids' deaths," May 10).
Georgians who want to do something can serve as advocates for these children in court. Volunteers with Court Appointed Special Advocates routinely fill gaps in the "system breakdowns" and uncover new solutions that move children faster to safe, permanent homes and that literally have saved children's lives.
Thank you for speaking up for children. Members of the public can do the same.
Drake is public awareness manager for Georgia Court Appointed Special Advocates
READER RESPONSES: DFACS: Hire qualified caseworkers
Tannahill Glen - For the Journal-Constitution
Friday, May 26, 2000
Recommendations from the GBI investigation of the deaths of 13 children under the Department of Family and Children Services' care will do little to change the offensively incompetent bureaucracy that allegedly provides social services for families and children ("GBI: No crime in abuse cases," Local News, May 18). Recommended changes include higher salaries and better training for caseworkers, which will no doubt lead to higher salaries and more frequent, low-quality departmental "seminars" for already-entrenched, unqualified employees.
Instead, the department should ruthlessly trim its work force, keeping only those who meet high education and performance standards and hire a higher number of better-qualified caseworkers, thus reducing individual caseloads. State employee tenure, until it is abolished, will continue to place children's lives in jeopardy by allowing caseworkers who violate policy --- even when it leads to a child's death --- to remain employed.
Glen, of Atlanta, is a neuropsychologist.
READER RESPONSES: DFACS: Right leaders vital to social work
Larry Whittington - For the Journal-Constitution
Friday, May 26, 2000
The county Departments of Family and Children Services are ultimately responsible for children when the parents aren't. Children dying while in DFACS care is absolutely unacceptable.
In the cases of Terrell Peterson and Tavelle Davis, Fulton County DFACS was responsible, and it blew it. Social work is an onerous task. It takes great patience and an iron will to do it right. The ones who accept the calling have my utmost respect. I admire these good folks and thank the good Lord they are with us.
As in every organization, the tone in DFACS is set by the leaders. They let it be known what's important. If the tone they set is not one of commitment to the helpless, it won't happen. If their level of expectation is not that of excellence, mediocrity will prevail. If the most important thing to them is something other than social work, a morass of politics will paralyze the social workers.
Ralph Mitchell has earned dismissal from his leadership position. I hope the next person in charge of Fulton County DFACS will have his or her priorities more in order.
Whittington, of Alpharetta, is a software developer.
READER RESPONSES: DFACS: Workers carry heavy burden
Donald Kennedy - For the Journal-Constitution
Saturday, June 17, 2000
Last December, I was the proudest dad in the world when my daughter graduated from Georgia State University with a bachelor of science degree. After years of hard work, she would finally enter the business world. How little I knew! My daughter joined the Department of Family and Children Services as a social services case manager associate, at $21,000 per year, continuous 60-70 hour weeks, minimal training, mediocre support, dangerous situations and nonstop pressure. I keep asking her, "Why do you do it?"
Like Dr. David J. Goo, she has a passion, a passion to help children. Who is to blame for children not getting the protection they so deserve? DFACS? Police? The prosecutor's office? No, none of the above. We don't have to look very far, just look at our governor and Legislature. DFACS and all other agencies that are responsible for the welfare of our children are overworked, underpaid and definitely not supported by the Legislature.
Today, the popular thing is to support schools, more teachers, more classrooms, more computers. But when one of our children is abused, sexually, emotionally, physically, whom do we call on? Yes, DFACS. You can have the best school manned by excellent teachers, but how can an abused child concentrate and learn?
Call or write our governor, your senator, your representative and ask to do something to protect our children.
Kennedy, of Atlanta, is a corporate consultant.
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