(This is a copy of the original story on the AJC site.)
Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.

[The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 1.16.2000]


Georgia's forgotten children II
Welfare case files show how agency failed to protect
• Professionals' abuse reports often discounted
Neglect, an elusive killer, does its work slowly
Drugs play major role in children's deaths

Georgia's forgotten children I
Lives and deaths unnoticed
Pam couldn't take care of herself
• When workers talked about Kendall's death
• Tracking system didn't save Nathan
Octavious died despite complaints
Raymond neglected in life, doctors say

Terrell Peterson
• Did 5-year-old Terrell have to die?

Hot seat
• Rising star of child welfare Ralph Mitchell, is now under fire

Fulton was worst
• Most files seized by the GBI were from Fulton County

Prosecuting workers isn't enough

Deaths probed
• Governor's concern over possible 'criminal activity'

13 children
Sad histories marked by futile attempts
State under fire in 5-year-old's death
• Suit wants feds to take over DFACS

An elusive killer, parental
neglect does its work slowly

By Jane O. Hansen
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

Although more attention is given to physical and sexual abuse of children, most mistreated children are victims of their parents' neglect.

Among Georgia's children who died from 1996 through 1998, neglect was the reason that six in 10 of them first came to the attention of child protective services.

Typical of the neglect reports: Children are begging for food, dirty and unsupervised, not going to school, not going to the doctor, left home alone.

But neglect poses a particular challenge to child protective caseworkers. How serious must the lack of supervision be before the state decides a child is in danger? Is an unfed child the victim of neglect or poverty? What about an unfed child whose mother is a drug addict?

It is also difficult to prosecute a parent whose child dies from neglect. Is it a crime when a mother sleeps while her toddler runs into the highway and is run over? What if she were up all night holding down a second job? What if she were up all night drinking?

"Neglect has always been the hardest one to get your arms around because it's often an omission rather than a commission," said Sandra Wood, director of the Georgia Council on Child Abuse. "It may or may not be intentional. It may or may not be visible. Either because of our lack of attention to it, or our inability to recognize the red flags, sometimes we don't see it until a child is dead."

The records show that neglected children die. In severe cases, neglected babies lack the will to live or they starve to death. But even in its more subtle forms, neglect can portend danger.

In families with a history of neglect or abuse, "a climate is created where a child is more likely to be injured or killed," said Dr. Randell Alexander, director of the Center for Child Abuse at Morehouse School of Medicine.

Among the children who died in Georgia:

  • 16-month-old Darius Ward of Cordele, who died from acute iron poisoning after he got into a bottle of iron pills. The files of the Crisp County DFACS reflect a long history on the family of allegations of abuse and neglect. One month before his death, Darius had been treated for eating rat poison.

  • 2-month-old Isaiah Brown, who died from SIDS a day after someone called Banks County DFACS to complain that his mother had left him in a hot car. According to DFACS' records, a caller said the mother drank all the time and was asking neighbors for Valium. The next day, her son was found dead in a motel room where she had gone for a party. After Isaiah's death, an internal review by the state found that 17 times people had called DFACS offices alleging that the mother was frequently drunk and neglecting her children. Two of her children had been in and out of foster care since 1989. Given the history, the agency should have intervened when Isaiah was born, the state's review found. That involvement would "perhaps have saved his life."

  • 17-year-old Jean Davis, who was killed along with three other teens in a highly publicized car wreck in 1996. Jean's younger brother was drunk and driving when he slammed their van into a tree in Cobb County. Prior to her death, the county DFACS office had received eight complaints from school counselors, police and others alleging among other things that the family's home was littered with cat feces, the children were unkempt, often home alone, and beaten and abused at home. State officials later found that caseworkers had left the children in danger by failing to fully investigate all eight complaints, all of which were marked "unconfirmed."

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