[The Associated Press: 01.06.00]

Commissioner says 'top-to-bottom' review ordered of child care procedures

The head of the state's health services agency says she's ordered a top-to-bottom review of how it monitors children in its care following the death last year of a 5-year-old whose case has drawn national attention.

Human Resources Commissioner Audrey Horne commented Wednesday after drawing angry questions from legislative budget writers who had seen a segment on the CBS television show 60 Minutes II about the death of Terrell Peterson.

The boy was returned to his home even after a doctor treating him diagnosed him with battered child syndrome.

Pharina Peterson, the grandmother who cared for Terrell, was charged with reckless conduct but the case was dismissed when child service workers failed to bring the child to court or to appear themselves.

The grandmother and the boy's aunt now are charged with murder.

Following Terrell's death, the family and children's services agency in Fulton County issued a statement calling the death tragic but insisting the agency had handled the case properly. But that was a coverup, the head of the agency acknowledged later in a memo to the state director.

"It's a tremendous black eye to see those folks still working for us," Rep. Mike Snow, D-Chickamauga, told Ms. Horne. "It hurts all of us."

Rep. Sharon Trense, R-Atlanta, called it "absolutely inexcusable."

Ms. Horne was not commissioner at the time but she said, "It was a terrible case. Clearly the system failed that child."

Since taking office, she has formed an outside task force to examine the child protection system "top to bottom to address numerous problems we are finding," she added.

In response to a question about whether those involved in Terrell's case would be dismissed, she said, "We're taking a close look at the case... Any action will be taken very soon."

Peg Peters, the state director of family and children services at the time of Terrell's death, already has been transferred to a different position. And last year, Gov. Roy Barnes said 171 workers were being transferred from welfare and other duties to child protective services.

In addition, Barnes said he will introduce legislation at the upcoming General Assembly session to create an independent inspector's office that will have power to investigate and intervene in child protective cases at will.

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