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

Changing DFACS not enough, panelist says
Ron Martz - Staff
Thursday • January 27

The problems with Georgia's child protective services are so widespread and deeply ingrained that simply reforming the state agency responsible for protecting abused and neglected children is not enough, the head of an independent panel of experts said Wednesday.

Ann Cramer, chairwoman of the governor's Child Protective Services Task Force, said the state must take a more comprehensive approach in addressing problems of at-risk youngsters.

"It's not just (the Division of Family and Children Services) that has to change. It's the whole system that interfaces with families and children," Cramer said after the panel wrapped up its second day of meetings in Atlanta.

Appointed by Gov. Roy Barnes in December after a series of articles in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution documented numerous failings in DFACS, the panel has been charged with recommending changes to the system that would ensure the safety of children and restore public confidence in the agency. It has an April 20 deadline.

Among key issues being addressed are accountability of DFACS caseworkers and their supervisors, developing a common and understandable definition of what constitutes risk to a child, determining what factor welfare reform plays in abuse and neglect and trying to develop a statewide model for the operation of county DFACS offices.

Audrey Horne, commissioner of the Department of Human Resources, which oversees DFACS, said she was encouraged by the task force's meetings and welcomes the examination of an agency that she has headed for just over six months. "We will not get it solved by covering up what we've done," Horne said.

Horne likened the problems in child protective services to a strain of virus that has become resistant to antibiotics. "It's a system that has found ways to protect itself and we have to do a complete examination of all its warts and moles to find a cure for it," she said.

The task force will hold 10 community forums across the state. The first is Feb. 1 at Albany State University in Albany. For more information call 912-430-3986. The others are Feb. 3 in Waycross; Feb. 9 in Augusta; Feb. 11 in Columbus; Feb. 17 in Clarkesville; Feb. 16 and 21 in metro Atlanta; Feb. 18 in Calhoun; Feb. 21 in Savannah; and Feb. 22 in Athens. A forum in Macon is planned but has not been scheduled.

More information on the task force is available at .

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