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

2000 GEORGIA LEGISLATURE: House vote backs child protection bill
Overseeing the system: Critic says measure not 'Rambo' enough.
Ron Martz - Staff
Tuesday, March 21, 2000

A child advocate bill that is the third in a series of measures designed to provide a broader safety net for Georgia children won final approval in the state House on Monday and was sent to Gov. Roy Barnes for his signature.

By a margin of 114-14 the House endorsed the bill introduced by Barnes that creates an office to investigate the state child protective services system and opens to public scrutiny records of children who die after they become known to state officials. The bill now goes to Barnes' desk for his signature.

Rep. Georganna Sinkfield (D-Atlanta), co-author of the bill and one of its most aggressive supporters, said she believes this is a good first step toward making necessary changes in the child protective services system.

"My greatest hope is that the child advocate legislation takes a step toward doing something in this state that we have not done before and that is to assist, protect, and help restore the security of children whose well-being is threatened," Sinkfield said Monday.

Republicans provided the major opposition to the bill, saying it would create another level of bureaucracy in state government that is not needed. And attorney Don Keenan, who has filed suit against the state on behalf of Terrell Peterson, a 5-year-old Atlanta boy who died in 1998 after he and his siblings had been the subject of at least eight reports of abuse or neglect, said the office has no power because it will not be truly independent. Keenan also said the advocate will have to get the governor's permission to bring legal action against a state agency that is not properly protecting children.

"We needed a Rambo and they gave us a scarecrow with this bill," Keenan said.

Lawmakers had earlier passed legislation and sent to Barnes two other measures that focus on child welfare. One gives doctors the authority to take into protective custody children they believe are in imminent danger because of abuse or neglect. The other revamps the statewide structure of the DFACS, giving the director of that agency and the commissioner of the Department of Human Resources broader powers in hiring and firing directors of county DFACS offices. Currently only the governor and county boards have that power.

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