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

Constitution: Minor DFACS shake-up won't do job
Friday, May 19, 2000

The GBI says the deaths of 10 abused children did not involve criminal wrongdoing by child protective services employees. Instead, the GBI concluded, sloppy work, bad decisions and widespread inefficiency contributed to the deaths.

What a relief!

We can sleep easy tonight knowing that innocent babies and children died because our child welfare system is overworked, underfunded and archaic. Not much we can do about that, is there?

That seems to be the position of the Georgia General Assembly, which has repeatedly failed to provide the funding necessary to boost salaries, reduce caseloads and update technology in child protective services agencies. The state still isn't using a statewide computerized database that can instantly alert a Department of Family and Children Services worker in South Georgia that a family reported for abuse has a prior history in North Georgia.

The GBI described the agency's handwritten files as "antiquated, unprofessional and most often illegible."

The GBI findings underscore the lack of accountability in an agency where policy breaches can be fatal. "It appears that nothing can really be done when people put children's lives in jeopardy," said Eva Patillo, a member of the GBI task force and director of the state Office of Child Fatality Review. "All of us are concerned that some of these caseworkers who had so blatantly violated policy had been reassigned to work with children again."

Over the last decade, Atlanta Constitution reporter Jane O. Hansen has published several heartbreaking stories about dead babies who fell through cracks in the child welfare system. Readers express outrage, politicians pass laws and everybody assumes the problem is solved.

Then, another baby is scalded in boiling water, another toddler is starved and another 5-year-old with trusting eyes and a ready smile is beaten to death. And we all ask, "How did this happen? Didn't we take care of this a while ago?"

No, we didn't. Our continuing failure to adequately protect the state's most vulnerable citizens is the real crime. Gov. Roy Barnes and Department of Human Resources Commissioner Audrey Horne promise a major shake-up at DFACS. But without more money to hire top-notch people and provide better training, the shake-up will simply kick up a little dust.

When the dust settles, we will still have a tattered safety net that allows too many children to fall through.

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