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

Journal: Child protection legislation would create new problems
Wednesday • January 26

FIVE-YEAR-OLD Terrell Peterson, who in death tragically has attracted more compassion and concern than he did in the short life he suffered, has become the impetus for several welcome changes at the state Division of Family and Children Services. The proposed "Terrell Peterson Act," however, is not one of them.

The legislation would allow doctors who suspect abuse to take custody of a youngster without a court order, without parental consent and without liability if they believe "the child is in a circumstance or condition that presents an imminent danger to the child's life or health," and there is not enough time to get a court order. Not only is this legislation unnecessary, it presents a great potential for abuse. Would physicians, unfettered by liability, wrest an accident-prone child from concerned parents?

Actions taken following Atlanta Journal reporter Jane O. Hansen's expose of Terrell's death, despite eight reports alleging abuse, include:

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has begun a probe of 13 other deaths.

Gov. Roy Barnes is seeking $26 million in new state spending on child protection initiatives, including early intervention with families of at-risk newborns.

The state Department of Human Resources added more caseworkers and reduced case loads, is improving training and pay and created five teams to investigate children's deaths.

Barnes also wants to create an independent monitoring agency. The problem is not that we need another decision-making layer, it's that the system must be made to work. Doctors, teachers and psychologists are among those required to 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 DFACS is not required to respond. And apparently, they aren't responding. Doctors said they have difficulty getting in touch with police and DFACS workers. If that's the shortcoming, that's what needs fixing.

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