Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.
DFACS sees low turnout at forum
Albany -- If community leaders and the public are upset with how the state Department of Family and Children Services does its job, it was not evident in Albany Tuesday during the first of a series of community forums to address that issue.
Public input was minimal during a two-hour evening session and only about 25 people attended a morning session for community leaders in the daylong forum organized by the governor's Child Protective Services Task Force.
Most of the frustration with the system was expressed by DFACS caseworkers from southwest Georgia, their supervisors and other child welfare professionals, about 75 of whom attended the afternoon session.
Jeff Lawrence of Macon, the only task force member to attend, said organizers had less than a week to notify local residents. The 15-member task force was appointed by Gov. Roy Barnes in December to come up with recommendations to reform the much-criticized child protective services system and held its first meeting only last week in Atlanta.
"But I have to say I'm a little disappointed with the turnout tonight," said Lawrence, vice president of programs and services for the Macon Methodist Home for Children.
DFACS and its parent Department of Human Resources have come under increasing pressure in recent months to fix flaws in the system documented in a series of stories in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
DFACS workers expressed frustration with low salaries, lack of opportunity for advancement, heavy caseloads, inadequate training for their demanding jobs and too few support services. Those were many of the same concerns raised during the task force's initial meeting.
Charles Perry, head of Decatur County DFACS, said one aspect of training he would like improved is how to do investigative interviews so caseworkes can better gauge when children are at risk. "How do you do investigative interviews? How do you read body language? They need additional training in that," Perry said.
Perry also said that in rural counties such as his, which borders the Florida state line, there are few other resources available when dealing with abused or neglected children. "In rural counties DFACS is expected to be all things to all people and it can't be that way," he said.
DHR Commissioner Audrey Horne said recently that additional resources will be given to local offices, starting with Fulton County. She said the GBI also has offered to work with the agency on developing better interviewing techniques.
The GBI, at the direction of Barnes, is investigating the deaths of 13 children whose families had been reported for possible abuse or neglect.
The panel is scheduled to make final recommendations to Barnes on April 20. The next session is Thursday at Waycross College in Waycross. Metro Atlanta sessions are scheduled Feb. 16 and 21.
For more information about the task force go to its Web site:
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