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

Journal: Work to seal cracks in DFACS system
Wednesday • January 19

TORI ROBINSON rolled out of her bed, and that's how she fractured her skull, her mom told hospital authorities. Knowing 2-month-old infants don't "roll," officials called the state Department of Family and Children Services, which barely investigated before concluding that suspicions of abuse couldn't be "confirmed."

The baby was soon back at the hospital with other mysterious injuries, including a fractured shoulder. Finally, she came in limp, comatose, with blunt injuries to the head, and died two weeks later. She could have been saved at 2 months old. Instead she was dead before she was 2.

This is just one of the 513 cases of dead children that DFACS has kept a tight lid on. Atlanta Journal reporter Jane O. Hansen has found that in more than half the cases, there had been reports of abuse to DFACS, that the agency bungled the cases, and the children died.

This cannot continue. Georgia law requires that teachers, doctors, psychologists and others report suspicions of child abuse to DFACS. The law presumes the agency will follow through on the reports of abuse. That presumption should hold. When the drunk next door is terrorizing his family, neighbors call the police and expect them to come. Similarly, citizens should expect DFACS to investigate suspicions of abuse, not sweep them under the rug as "unconfirmed."

And yet, that word appears time and again in court records, often accompanied by such predictable responses as "mother denied allegations." These are slim reeds on which to rest a child protective system.

DFACS needs to take some specific steps to help protect children:

Begin with the presumption that child abuse is a crime worthy of investigation, including possible police involvement.

Caseworkers need smaller caseloads and better training, and they must be required to follow up on reports of abuse. The system needs better information technology that allows social workers to keep track of reports of abuse and children in peril, along the lines of the computerized system parole officers use to keep track of parolees.

Confidentiality rules need to be re-examined, particularly in cases involving violence.

Nobody should expect DFACS to heroically rescue every endangered child. Nor can we expect young, underpaid caseworkers always to possess the Solomonlike wisdom to know when to take babe from mom. Nor should we expect any government agency to overcome the pathologies that stem from thousands of unequipped teens having babies and from a toxic mix of drugs, poverty and boyfriends.

But never should DFACS have a case where multiple reports of abuse go ignored, only for a child to die.

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