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

THE STORY SO FAR: Case files getting attention
Jane O. Hansen - Staff
Sunday • February 6

In late 1997, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution went to court to gain access to DFACS records of children who had died after their families were reported to the state for abuse or neglect. The state turned over the files of 844 children who had died between 1993 and 1998.

From those files, reporter Jane O. Hansen has previously published three special reports:

"Did 5-year-old Terrell have to die?" on Oct. 17, 1999, recounted the story of Terrell Peterson of Fulton County, who died after a long period of physical abuse and torture. DFACS officials covered up their failure to investigate complaints of abuse and neglect against him. A grandmother, aunt and aunt's boyfriend have been charged with his murder. Since the story of Terrell ran, a state civil lawsuit has been filed on Terrell's behalf, seeking independent oversight of DFACS. A separate lawsuit seeks a federal takeover of DFACS. Gov. Roy Barnes named a new head of DFACS and said he would seek an independent children's advocate office to investigate and intervene in DFACS cases. The "Terrell Peterson Act," which would give doctors the right to take temporary custody of children they suspect have been abused, was approved by a state Senate Judiciary subcommittee last week.

"Georgia's forgotten children" on Dec. 5, 1999, described the secrecy that surrounds the work of DFACS and how reforms passed by the state Legislature 10 years ago have failed to protect children. On Jan. 11, in a surprise sweep across the state, agents of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation seized DFACS files of 13 children. Barnes, who ordered the seizure, said his review of some files had raised the question of "criminal activity." On Jan. 13, Hansen reported that five of the 13 children whose files the GBI seized had been from Fulton County, and that Fulton County had by far the largest number of deaths of DFACS children in the state. On Jan. 19, Human Resources Commissioner Audrey Horne said that Fulton County DFACS has been targeted by state officials for special attention and help.

"Fatally flawed system failed children" on Jan. 16, revealed the newspaper's analysis of the files of 513 children who died between 1996 and 1998. Among the findings: 46 percent of the deaths occurred while DFACS had an open file on the children or their families --- meaning the agency was supposedly actively involved. In more than half of the deaths, complaints of abuse or neglect came not from a casual observer but from a professional --- teacher, doctor or policeman. Yet, these reports were frequently ignored. Nearly a third of the case files show that state investigators later found specific violations of state policy.

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