Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.
The job of a caseworker
Caseworkers perform many tasks. In some counties, one person performs them all. In larger counties, individual units have specialized functions.
When a person reports abuse or neglect to DFACS, someone screens that call to determine whether it warrants an investigation. In 1998, DFACS received 70,652 calls of suspected child maltreatment. Intake workers found that 47,007 of those cases --- about two-thirds --- justified an investigation.
Child protective workers determine how dangerous a child's home is and whether the child would remain at risk if left there. At that stage, it is important to interview the child and siblings away from their parents. They must talk to parents, teachers and others who may have information. Caseworkers must collect medical records, police reports or other documents that may shed light on a child's situation.
In 1998, workers determined there was abuse or neglect in 24,567 cases, about half of those investigated. At that point, the caseworker opens a case and develops a plan that requires certain actions by the parents. A parent who is a substance abuser may be required to get treatment. If a family needs housing, the agency may help find or even fund it.
If the family does not cooperate and the child remains at risk, the caseworker may recommend removing the child from the home. A caseworker must petition the Juvenile Court and a series of court hearings may ensue.
If the judge agrees the child should go into foster care, caseworkers continue to monitor the child's well-being. The goal is either to reunite the child and the parents or end parental rights and free the child for adoption.
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