(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: 01.01.00]

 Panel to seek better ways of protecting children; Kids under state's wing: Task force charged with helping boost safeguards, accountability.

By Jane O. Hansen
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

The way Georgia protects --- or fails to protect --- abused and neglected children will come under scrutiny by a panel of experts named this week.

In appointing the 15-member task force, Human Resources Commissioner Audrey Horne said recent articles in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution raised concerns about the state's response to reports of child maltreatment.

The newspaper found that 844 Georgia children died between 1993 and the end of 1998 after their families had been reported to child protective services workers.

"Although the majority of those children died from accidents or medical conditions, even one death of a child from abuse in Georgia is one too many," Horne said in a news release.

Horne appointed Ann Cramer, regional director of public relations for IBM, as chairwoman of the 15-member panel. Other members include Doug Nelson, president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, a national organization that funds research and programs for disadvantaged children; Roy Richards Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Southwire Co.; Otis Johnson, dean of arts and sciences at Savannah State University; and Juvenile Court Judge Velma Tilley of Cartersville.

The group will recommend changes in state policies, improvements in staffing and ways to hold the child protective services system more accountable. Cramer said the task force would study what works in other states and hold as many as five public hearings across Georgia before issuing a final report at the end of April.

"This is about every child in Georgia," Cramer said. "When the state has responsibility for a child, we need to know that child is going to be safe."

She expressed confidence that Gov. Roy Barnes and other state leaders would take the group's report seriously. "I finally think the environment is set for us not to just have a task force," she said, "but we'll also have the ability to implement something."

Recently, Horne has taken other steps to reform child protective services. After news articles about the death of 5-year-old Terrell Peterson, who died while under the state's protective watch, Horne transferred 171 welfare workers to child protective services. Her department is being sued for the child's death by Atlanta lawyer Don Keenan, who is demanding the overhaul of the Department of Human Resources' Division of Family and Children Services and the creation of an ombudsman office.

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