(This is a copy of the original story on the AJC site.)
Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.

[The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 1.16.2000]


Georgia's forgotten children II
Welfare case files show how agency failed to protect
• Professionals' abuse reports often discounted
Neglect, an elusive killer, does its work slowly
Drugs play major role in children's deaths

Georgia's forgotten children I
Lives and deaths unnoticed
Pam couldn't take care of herself
• When workers talked about Kendall's death
• Tracking system didn't save Nathan
Octavious died despite complaints
Raymond neglected in life, doctors say

Terrell Peterson
• Did 5-year-old Terrell have to die?

Hot seat
• Rising star of child welfare Ralph Mitchell, is now under fire

Fulton was worst
• Most files seized by the GBI were from Fulton County

Prosecuting workers isn't enough

Deaths probed
• Governor's concern over possible 'criminal activity'

13 children
Sad histories marked by futile attempts
State under fire in 5-year-old's death
• Suit wants feds to take over DFACS

Professionals' abuse reports
often ignored, discounted

By Jane O. Hansen
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

When Tori Robinson was 2 months old, her mother took her to a hospital in Milledgeville with a fractured skull. Lisa Robinson said her baby had rolled off the couch, but medical staff didn't believe her. They reported the suspicious injury to DFACS, and an agency worker noted in her records that "there was concern by all [at the hospital] that such a fragile child at such a young age could roll at all."

Despite the analysis by trained medical staff, the caseworker marked the abuse allegation as unconfirmed "due to no known indicators of risk" and closed the case. In October 1994, Tori was sent home with her mother.

Georgia law requires teachers, doctors, psychologists and others to regularly report any suspicion that a child may be a victim of abuse or neglect. Some professionals have been prosecuted for failing to report their suspicions.

But while these "mandated reporters" are required to call DFACS, the child welfare agency isn't required to respond. And agency officials say confidentiality laws block them from sharing with the professionals what they're doing about an endangered child, or whether they're doing anything at all.

Children, as a result, sometimes die.

Among the dead children in the agency's files, more than half died after one or more mandated reporters contacted DFACS to register their concerns. Yet caseworkers discounted 45 percent as unconfirmed, records show.

"If in fact we're erring in how we treat those reports, and those children subsequently are dying, we need to fix that," said Juanita Blount-Clark, the new head of DFACS. "It's got to be fixed."

In some cases, child protective services workers blatantly disregarded the professional judgment of doctors, police, hospital social workers and others who warned that a child was in danger.

In one case, a 5-month-old baby with Down syndrome died, reportedly of natural causes, after seven mandated reporters -- including a police officer, hospital worker, and several counselors -- called in serious allegations involving this baby and his 2-year-old brother.

Among the complaints:

  • "Father wants baby dead."
  • "Father stated that he would cut the baby's throat."
  • "Husband has threatened to kill 2-year-old son."
  • "Mother has history of drug abuse -- seems unconcerned that baby is sick, made comment she doesn't know what she will do with two children."
  • "Today mother pulled feeding tube out of baby...staff is concerned that parents will not be able to care for child upon his release from hospital."

    All seven reports were marked unconfirmed, once because "mother denied allegations," other times because the family was rarely at home when the caseworker visited. When the baby died, the mother was again pregnant.

    As for Tori Robinson, after caseworkers closed her case, her mother brought her twice more to the hospital -- once for failure to thrive and again when Tori was 19 months old for a fractured shoulder.

    In April 1996, Tori came into the hospital a final time, comatose and suffering from multiple blunt injuries to the head. Doctors found old and new bruises consistent with battered child syndrome. Two weeks later, Tori died of her injuries. She was not quite 2 years old.

    In 1998, her mother was sentenced to two years in prison and 100 hours of community service for cruelty to a child for "fatally slapping her toddler."

    A later review by state DFACS officials found the initial abuse complaint "was closed in error," with no justification for the decision.

    "Tori appears to have fallen through a very large crack in the service delivery system," state officials wrote.

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