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

Child advocate: Office won't 'be another DFACS'
Lawmakers are being assured her investigations will be independent.
Ron Martz - Staff
Friday, October 20, 2000

Auburn police Officer Maggie Maddox was frustrated that, despite her reports to the Barrow County Department of Family and Children Services, little was being done to protect three children there she thought were in danger of serious injury.

But DFACS workers either dismissed or downplayed reports from Maddox and a GBI agent about possible abuse or neglect of three children. The three children died Aug. 16 in a fire police say was set by their father.

Those law enforcement officials could have gone to the state's child advocate's office, had it been operational, with their concerns about the case, the new advocate, Dee Simms, told state legislators Thursday. "At that point we would have opened a file and started tracking the case to see what DFACS was doing," Simms said.

Simms assured the lawmakers, members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Development and the Children and Youth Committee, that her office would be independent of DFACS and would investigate those cases in which DFACS either did too much or too little, or in which it was felt that some other state agency had not properly protected children.

"This office will be taking complaints when DFACS has not dealt with the issue. This office is not in place to be another DFACS," she said.

Simms said the office probably will not be fully operational until after Jan. 1. She said she is in the process of hiring her staff, which will consist of an assistant advocate who specializes in social work, an investigator and an administrative assistant. She said she also is negotiating with the GBI to have one of its child abuse specialists assigned to her office on a permanent basis.

The advocate's main office will be in Macon, where Simms lives, with a satellite office in Atlanta. Macon will provide a centralized location for investigators, Simms said.

"I also think people need to understand that this advocate is for all of Georgia, not just for Atlanta or the metro area, and is there to help them," she said.

A toll-free telephone line will be installed to handle complaints and a tracking system developed to ensure investigators follow through on cases.

Lawmakers have questioned how effectively the office could be run on its first-year budget of $300,000, but Simms said she plans to ask the Legislature for additional money and resources at its session in January.

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