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

Child welfare fixes expected to be costly
Rebuilding crippled system could take three years, says state's Human Resources commissioner.
Ron Martz - Staff
Thursday, July 20, 2000

It will cost more than $20 million next year to begin fixing the flaws in Georgia's child welfare system, a state official who oversees the agency said Wednesday.

Human Resources Commissioner Audrey Horne, whose department includes the troubled child welfare system, said it may take up to three years to fix all the problems.

Horne on Wednesday presented her board of directors with a program she called a "Special Child Welfare Initiative" as part of the agency's budget package for fiscal 2002.

Hundreds of children have died in the past five years after coming to the agency's attention. And the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, in probing 13 recent deaths of abused children, said the child welfare agency's sloppy work, bad decisions and widespread inefficiency contributed to 10 of those deaths.

Horne said the initiative must be funded.

"It's a major step and a step we need to take because we need to build credibility to get us where we need to be in this department," Horne said at a board meeting at Lake Lanier Islands. DHR has an annual budget of about $1.2 billion.

The initiative leans heavily on many of the recommendations made by the Child Protective Services Task Force that earlier this year called for sweeping reforms in how Georgia protects its children.

Among the proposals in the initiative:

The initiative won praise from board members and child advocates.

"This is the best child welfare budget I've seen in years. It addresses the whole system rather than just pieces," said Normer Adams, executive director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children.

Todd Jarrell of Columbus, vice chairman of the DHR board, said the initiative is designed to elevate the level of child welfare services.

"This has been our No. 1 priority for the year," Jarrell said.

Kenneth Jones, budget director for DHR, said the proposals are still being fine-tuned and the $20 million estimate for the first year is subject to change before a budget is presented to the board in mid-August.

According to Jones, the governor's Office of Planning and Budget has asked state agencies to limit their fiscal 2002 budget requests to no more than 3 percent over their current base budget.

DHR's target, he said, is $39 million, but the $20-plus million for the child welfare initiative would have to come from other funds allocated by the General Assembly.

The Department of Human Resources board discussed major budget items for fiscal 2002. In addition to a $20 million child welfare initiative, other items, not yet with price tags, include:

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