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

Peter Mantius - Staff
Thursday • February 17

The state Senate unanimously approved legislation Wednesday authorizing doctors to take temporary custody of children they suspect have been abused.

The Terrell Peterson Bill now moves to the House, where it is expected to meet little or no resistance.

The measure is named after a 5-year-old Atlanta boy who died two years ago after multiple reports to county officials that he was abused or neglected.

Currently, only law enforcement officials are allowed to take a child into temporary protective custody without an order from a juvenile court. Senate Bill 315 would grant doctors that power, too. Physicians could hold a child for assessment and treatment for 24 hours before notifying a juvenile court of their action.

"Had we had a law like this on the books, maybe Terrell Peterson would be alive today," said Sen. Nadine Thomas (D-Ellenwood), a registered nurse who sponsored the bill. "It's not a cure-all, but at least we have some safeguard in place."

The bill passed the Senate with little discussion. Sen. Clay Land (R-Columbus) said the bill gained bipartisan support because it addresses the serious problem of children being returned to situations of abuse.

Thomas modeled the bill after laws in Iowa and Illinois. Many states give doctors authority to take temporary custody of children who have bruises or markings that suggest abuse.

Illinois reported taking 6,462 children into protective custody in fiscal 1999. Of that number, 129 were placed there by doctors.

Gov. Roy Barnes has said responsibility for Terrell's death rests on the state. He is pushing legislation that would create an Office of Child Advocate to serve as a watchdog over the state Division of Family and Children Services.

Last month, the GBI seized the case files of 13 children, including Terrell, who died between 1996 and 1998 while under the supervision of DFACS.

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