Reprinted from Georgia's Department of Human Resources web site.
TO: Elected Officials
FROM: Audrey W. Horne
DATE: December 29, 1999
RE: Continuing Improvements to the Child Welfare System in Georgia
Since my last letter to you in October, I have taken some additional steps to improve the child welfare system, and the Atlanta Journal/Constitution series on the states child welfare system has begun.
First, I need to clarify that although the newspaper articles referred to 844 child deaths over a six-year period, the majority of these children did not die from abuse or neglect. They died from accidents or medical conditions. However, while the majority of the children were not in state custody and did not die from abuse, even one child who dies from abuse is one too many. I want to give you an update on what we are doing to prevent as many of these fatalities as we can.
We are establishing an independent Task Force on Child Protective Services to do a comprehensive review of the child protective services system in Georgia. The task force is composed of representatives from child welfare, business, the judicial system, law enforcement, the medical community and child abuse prevention services. The task force will evaluate the entire spectrum of services to children policy, management and practice and make recommendations for change. The evaluation will be thorough and efficient; they will report their findings to the department in April 2000.
Governor Barnes and I recently announced the appointment of Juanita Blount-Clark as the new DFCS director. She will look at the entire scope of services that DFCS provides, and will give the division a fresh start. I am confident that she will work hard to make sure that the agency is efficient, effective and accountable.
We are identifying 171 current workers in eligibility and other areas to transfer to Child Protective Services. Dwindling welfare numbers have given the department an opportunity to redirect more of its resources and attention to protecting children. DFCS has already trained 21 eligibility caseworkers in Fulton County who are willing to move to Child Protective Services.
I was outraged and concerned by the stories in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. Under my watch I will do everything possible to help Georgias children and families. We are continuing to work to find out what went wrong in child protective services and implement plans to fix it. I will now be personally notified every time DFCS receives word of a child death. DFCS policy requires that counties are to notify the state Child Protective Services unit within 24 hours. I will now know about these deaths as well, to ensure that DHR takes appropriate actions.
One need I have identified since coming to DHR is our lack of competitiveness in salaries for child protective services staff. Currently the starting salary is below market value for the salary required to hire quality employees. The target salary is the salary standards range that was set by the Georgia Gain compensation study in 1996. To adjust current social service case managers and related DFCS jobs which are below this target now would cost approximately $3.2 million state funds in FY 2001. This would make the starting salary of a social service case manager $26,646, an increase of approximately $3,000. While this will not cure the problem it would help us to attract and retain more skilled social workers.
I know that you share a commitment to protecting Georgias children, and I am asking for your support as we continue to make other improvements. If you have any questions or would like additional information, please call Tom Wade, DHR Deputy Commissioner, at 404-651-6314.
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