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

Constitution: State hasn't closed holes in its child-safety shield
Wednesday, April 19, 2000

In Georgia's troubled child welfare system, the motto appears to be, "If something's broken, don't fix it." How else do you explain the fact that a new report by an independent panel essentially cites the exact same problems and solutions as one issued 11 years ago? Two themes echo throughout both reports --- lack of money and leadership.

The panels recommended hiring better qualified staff, developing multi-agency responses to poverty and substance abuse, investing in technology and bolstering oversight of the child protective system. All of those changes carry steep prices and call for strong leaders to insist that protecting vulnerable children commands the same attention in this state as traffic headaches and education reform.

Without money and strong leaders, Georgia will remain hamstrung by a child abuse safety net so riddled with holes that hundreds of children go hurtling to the ground each year. An Atlanta Constitution analysis of 513 deaths of abused and neglected children found that 46 percent of those deaths occurred while the state was actively monitoring the families. One in 6 children died from abuse, homicides, gun accidents or suicides. In 22 percent of the deaths, the state had reviewed the case and closed its file.

As the report released this week concludes, "Workloads for caseworkers are intolerable . . . Overall, Georgia suffers from a turnover rate of nearly 40 per year. This consistently places inexperienced new hires at the leading edge of protecting vulnerable children."

It is a disgrace that a state blessed with a soaring economy and record surplus still sends social workers out on calls without such basic tools as cell phones. Why do parole officers have laptop computers to keep track of parolees, yet social workers charged with saving children's lives rely on pen and pad?

It is unconscionable that Georgia child protective services operate without an adequate computer database. A decade ago, the Georgia Legislature passed a law calling for a tracking system and funded it. But today a caseworker investigating a child abuse complaint still may not learn there is a family history or a paper trail of similar calls.

Even more disturbing is the historic lack of leadership in the state Department of Human Resources. Despite six reports laying out the system's flaws and necessary fixes, little has changed. As the latest report sadly notes, "Adults in Georgia have failed to create the capacity to protect vulnerable children and they have failed to establish a system with any real accountability." These are truly the state's forgotten children.

By opening up the records of children who die under state care to the public, Gov. Roy Barnes has already shown he will not be part of the conspiracy of silence that hides the system's failures. Now, he must prove that he will not be party to the complacency that hinders its reformation.

[Back to Terrell Peterson Pages] [GAHSC Home Page] brought to you in partnership with AccessAtlanta
© 1999, 2000 Cox Interactive Media