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

2000 GEORGIA LEGISLATURE: House aids effort to protect children
Chamber OKs bill letting state commissioner fire DFACS county directors.
Alan Judd - Staff
Wednesday • March 8

The state House of Representatives took yet another move Tuesday to enhance Georgia's efforts to protect its children from abuse.

The House approved a bill giving the state's human resources commissioner the authority to hire and fire county directors of the Division of Family and Children Services.

Local boards appointed by county commissions now decide who will oversee child protective services. Only those local boards, or the governor, can remove a county director under current law.

The bill now goes to the Senate. It is the third child abuse measure that lawmakers have considered this year. The bills came after a series of articles in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that said hundreds of Georgia children had died after their cases became known to the state's child protective services system.

"This is another step in helping the system run better," said Rep. Georganna Sinkfield (D-Atlanta), chairwoman of the House Children and Youth Committee.

The bill approved on a 125-41 vote would force county DFACS boards to nominate more than one candidate for every local director's job. The commissioner of the state Department of Human Resources would make the final choice and also could fire a county director to protect the welfare of children in that county.

"It sends a message that the Department of Human Resources commissioner is in charge," said Rep. Sharon Trense (R-Atlanta), the bill's sponsor.

Articles in the Journal-Constitution on the case of Terrell Peterson showed that the Fulton County DFACS office received eight reports alleging that the 5-year-old or his siblings were being abused or neglected.

Still, the boy was not removed from his home, and he died in January 1998. His grandmother, his aunt and the aunt's boyfriend have been charged in his death.

The director of Fulton's DFACS office, Ralph Mitchell, at first said publicly that his employees had acted properly in Terrell's case. But he later wrote a private memo telling his superiors that procedures had not been followed.

On Monday, the House approved a bill creating a Child Advocate Office to monitor how DFACS operates. Another child abuse bill, called the Terrell Peterson Act, would allow physicians to take temporary custody of children they suspect have been abused.

The Senate has passed that measure and it is awaiting House action.

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