Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.
DFACS in crisis, panel told
The state agency charged with protecting Georgia's abused and neglected children is in crisis and needs an intense and rigorous examination if serious flaws in it are to be fixed, an independent panel of experts was told Tuesday night.
"This task force needs to help us rethink what we do and how we do it," Audrey Horne, commissioner of the state Department of Human Resources, said at the first meeting of the Task Force for Child Protective Services.
The task force --- appointed in December following a series of articles in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that were highly critical of the DHR's Division of Family and Children Services --- has until April 20 to come up with recommendations on reforming the agency.
Horne asked the 15-member panel to closely examine the policies, practices and performance of the child protective system during the next three months as it seeks solutions that would ensure the safety of all children in the state and build public confidence in the agency.
"Help us make sure we are serving the needs of the children we are charged to help, not our own needs as an agency," Horne said.
Complicating the task force's mission is a GBI investigation ordered by Gov. Roy Barnes into the deaths of 13 children who died after their families were reported for possible abuse or neglect. Two weeks ago GBI agents seized case files of the 13 from DFACS offices in six counties.
But Ann Cramer, task force chairwoman, told members to steer clear of that ongoing investigation and to focus more on solutions.
"The charge to us is pretty simple: Get down to work, listen, learn and then come up with some pretty extraordinary solutions," said Cramer, regional director of IBM Corporate Community Relations and Public Affairs.
Members of the task force said they wanted to be able to come up with fixes to the system that are workable, will be implemented by the state and can be understood by the general public.
Dr. James Logan, a Macon pediatrician, said he will feel the task force has successfully done what it is setting out to do "if by 2001 we can look back and feel we did something worthwhile."
The task force will meet again today in Atlanta before regional community meetings begin across the state.
Forums are scheduled in Albany on Feb. 2; Savannah on Feb. 2; and Waycross on Feb. 3.
The full task force will meet once a month between now and April.
The public can contact the task force at Georgia Child Protective Services Task Force, P.O. Box 1417, Atlanta, GA 30303-1908.
Progress of the Task Force for Child Protective Services can be tracked through its Web site at
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