Reprinted from Georgia's Department of Human Resources web site.

                   . . . statement from the Commissioner Audrey Horne

'm the head of a state agency that is one of the institutions responsible for protecting the lives of Georgia's children. I'm also a mother. As a mother I was angry, outraged, and terribly sad as I read Jane Hansen's article on what she called "the forgotten children" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution 12/5/99). How did this happen? Why did these children die? I can't imagine hurting my child, let alone beating, starving or scalding her.

 As commissioner of the Department of Human Resources, I know what puts children in danger. Drug-addicted parents. Poor judgement by overwhelmed caseworkers. Unstable, transient families. Lack of community involvement. Poverty. The list goes on.

 I also know that only a small portion of child deaths is due to abuse and neglect. Although the newspaper article referred to 844 child deaths over a six year period, the majority of these children did not die from abuse. They died from accidents or medical conditions. For example, these cases include:

While the majority of the 844 children were not in state custody and did not die from abuse, even one child who dies from abuse is one too many. And that is one of the reasons Georgia's child protective services has made and is continuing to make significant changes.

 DFCS developed strong, research-based policies designed to address many of the problems pointed out in the articles. Our caseworkers now use investigative guidelines and service delivery models developed in other states that have been shown to reduce the incidence of repeat abuse and neglect.

 Do we still have problems? Of course, just as every state in the country does. Child deaths are bred by poverty, mental illness, fractured families, and drug abuse. Also, CPS is part of a system that includes judges, law enforcement, doctors, hospitals and schools. This system is unwieldy, despite the best intentions of all involved. And if one part of the system fails (a caseworker doesn't do a thorough investigation, a judge sends a child home to out-of-control parents) it can mean serious harm to a child.

 The demands on caseworkers are enormous. The intensity of their job coupled with the truly alarming number of problems in the families they serve leads to burnout and a high rate of turnover. Yet the vast majority work long hours, sacrifice their personal life and go the third and fourth mile to see that children are safe. Because of their dedication we are able to protect thousands of children every year. I applaud their work and hope the public realizes the truly heroic job they do.

We are working on strengthening the whole network of agencies involved with making decisions about children’s lives. Last month, DHR sponsored the first statewide conference to encourage teamwork by training people from various professions to identify, investigate and successfully prosecute cases of child fatalities due to abuse.

Starting this month, five judicial districts will pilot child death investigation teams trained by DFCS. The teams, composed of a district attorney, law enforcement, medical examiner and CPS investigator will conduct joint crime scene investigations whenever a child dies under suspicious circumstances.

To further strengthen our part of the system, I am taking a number of immediate actions. Number one, I am establishing an independent child protection task force to do a comprehensive review of the CPS system in Georgia. The task force will evaluate the entire spectrum of services to children — from policy to management to practice — and make recommendations for improvement. This independent task force will be made up of Georgians and nationally respected experts in child welfare. I expect them to do a thorough review and report their findings to me within 90 days.

Second, we are transferring 171 DFCS staff members from their current work assignment to child protective services. Dwindling welfare numbers have given us the opportunity to redirect resources, including staff, to protecting children. So far, twenty-one Fulton County workers have been trained for their new responsibilities. The new workers will finally bring Georgia up to the number of field staff recommended by a recent workload study done by the Wisconsin-based Children’s Research Center. Having a thousand workers in the field will allow CPS to meet DFCS standards for number of visits and contacts monthly for each family.

Third, I am appointing a response team to conduct a review of child death records from previous and current years to see what else DFCS could have done to prevent some of those deaths.

Fourth, I will now get a report on every child who dies of any cause whose family had previously been investigated for abuse or neglect so that my office can track the follow-up investigation. However, approximately half of the children who die each year from abuse or neglect have had no involvement with DFCS.

DFCS will begin the new year with a new director, Juanita Blount-Clark, who is respected as a visionary builder and problem solver. A major part of her responsibilities will be working closely with county DFCS offices to build a stronger safety network for children. I appreciate the Governor’s support in our efforts to make the child welfare system the best it can be. I support fully his call for an independent child advocacy office to investigate and intervene in cases when necessary.

I wish with all my heart that I could promise that no child known to DFCS will ever die from abuse and neglect. I can’t do that. But I can assure you, we in DHR take our jobs very seriously and we will do everything in our power to protect Georgia’s children.

Georgia Department of Human Resources
December 1999

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