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

Constitution: Politics can't constrain child advocate
Friday, September 22, 2000

The state's new child advocate cannot be content in her job unless the governor is discontented in his.

After all, the chief responsibility of child advocate Dee Simms is to expose failures in the state's child welfare system, even when those failures embarrass Gov. Roy Barnes and other officials. She cannot be concerned about the political consequences of where her investigations might lead.

Unfortunately, Simms' investigations can't lead directly to court action on behalf of Georgia's children, because Barnes refused to grant the advocate the power to sue, an ability critical to ensuring a truly independent office.

Determined to control the office, Barnes stipulated that the advocate obtain his permission to bring legal action against a state agency that is not properly protecting children.

Simms, a former assistant district attorney in Macon, prosecuted child-victim crimes for six years and chaired the Bibb County Child Abuse Protocol Committee. And as state advocate, she does have important authority. She can intervene and review any child-abuse case and examine all the records. She can inspect any institution where the state of Georgia has placed a child.

In announcing that he chose Simms, Barnes emphasized her role as a "watchdog." However, when she comes up against an agency that's not doing its job and balks at making the necessary changes, Simms may be forced to be more of an attack dog.

Will the leash to the governor's office allow Simms to aggressively chase down such cases, or will she be jerked back by political constraints?

Only time and close scrutiny can answer that question.

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