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

Constitution: DFACS needs leadership to create state database
Monday, June 5, 2000

Since no one charged with protecting Georgia's abused children is providing any real leadership, Gov. Roy Barnes must step in to demand it.

Barnes ought to begin by giving state Human Resources Commissioner Audrey Horne and state Division of Family and Children Services Director Juanita Blount-Clark a direct order: Create a centralized child-abuse database by the end of the year or face termination.

Without a fully computerized registry to track families with histories of abuse and neglect, children will continue to be injured or killed because their abusers can escape detection simply by moving across county lines.

DFACS is now incapable of discovering quickly whether a father charged with sexually abusing his daughter in Baker County was suspected of the same crime in Butts, Banks or Bartow.

Though DFACS lacks leadership, it abounds in excuses. It claims it cannot maintain a statewide database because of a state Supreme Court ruling in 1998 on the constitutionality of such registries. But DFACS never bothered to refashion its system to pass constitutional muster, even though other states operate registries without any legal challenges.

The governor plans to see what the Legislature can do next year to initiate a registry. For the children's sake, keep legislators out of it if possible.

Historically, the Georgia General Assembly has diluted laws aimed at safeguarding children by strengthening the protections for the adults accused of hurting them. When it was functioning, the state's child-abuse registry faced several concerted efforts to dismantle it by the Legislature, which includes defense attorneys intent on promoting their clients' interests.

Plus, a new law wasn't necessary to create the Department of Corrections' online database that boasts information on 221,809 current and former inmates of Georgia prisons. The DFACS database ought to be a lot simpler to design because it wouldn't be available to the public. Instead, it would be strictly confidential and available only as an investigative tool for law enforcement and child protective workers.

The real question is how the Department of Corrections launched such a sophisticated system while DFACS still relies on boxes of files and scribbled notes.

The answer, in a word, is leadership.

ON THE WEB: To check out the Georgia Department of Corrections Web site:

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