(This is a copy of the original story on the AJC site.)
Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.

[The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 11.20.99]

 DFACS chief got poor marks in Floyd County

By Bill Torpy
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

Steve Love, named this month to run the state's child protection agency, was removed as director of its Floyd County office 11 years ago after an investigation found it to be in shockingly poor shape.

The 1988 report, conducted by state auditors from the University of Georgia, details organizational chaos: "appallingly low worker morale," inadequate training, little organization, poor administration, and "inadequate supervision and follow-up of individual cases."

"Far too many children in the cases reviewed remained at serious risk with (Floyd DFACS) workers documenting evidence without removing the children or taking needed steps to prevent them from gross neglect or abuse," the report read. "Repeated referrals from outside sources were made without cases being opened. Serious risk indicators were documented without intervention."

It later noted: "One is immediately struck by the size and opulence of the director's office in comparison to the modest and relatively stark quarters available for staff . . . (which) reinforces a negative perception of aloofness."

In response to the audit, the agency's corrective action plan at the time outlined 10 steps, the first being: "Reassign county DFACS director Steven Love to a position in the state DFACS office."

There, over the next decade, Love rose through the ranks to become the deputy director of the agency. On Nov. 1, Love was named interim director after Director Peg Peters was reassigned.

"I find it amazing," said David Doss, a former Floyd County commissioner who initiated the investigation that got Love removed. "It seems to be a common occurrence --- state employees who are punished seem to resurface and even flourish. It's frustrating."

Love was out of the office Friday and unavailable for comment.

But Sam Mitchell, the professor at the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute who wrote the scathing report, said Love took great steps to rehabilitate his career, including attending Mitchell's six-week course on managing human service organizations.

"He was at a stage in his career where he was overwhelmed, but I saw potential in him," said Mitchell. "He's very bright and committed. Steve got his act to- gether."

Howard Mead, communications director for Gov. Roy Barnes, said the governor told new Human Resources Commissioner Audrey Horne "to remake (DFACS) from top to bottom."

"That's why Peg Peters has been removed as director," said Mead. "Steve Love is serving as interim director for a short time only because he was deputy director. He will not be the permanent director."

Peters was transferred to a new state job two weeks after the Journal- Constitution recounted the case of 5-year-old Terrell Peterson, who died of a beating and near starvation in January 1998. Terrell died despite eight previous reports to DFACS that he or his siblings were being abused and neglected.

State investigators found numerous violations of DFACS policy in the handling of Terrell's case, but the agency's Fulton County office issued a news release saying investigators found the case had been handled by the book. The Fulton office notified Peters two days later that the statement was erroneous, but no correction was ever released.

Doss started a campaign against Floyd County's child protection agency in 1987 after a 3-year-old girl, who had been taken from her family by the agency 11 times previously, arrived at a Rome hospital with signs of severe sexual abuse --- twice in the same week. Doctors suspected sexual molestation and gave a letter to a DFACS worker at the hospital. But the letter sat in a DFACS office for a week until the caseworker delivered it to police. They were unable to make a case.

Doss, a volunteer at the local shelter for abused children, pushed to have the caseworker indicted for criminal negligence. She wasn't, but the grand jury demanded a state investigation.

That investigation led to Love's removal and other changes in the Floyd office.

Doss said the outrage that followed spurred the county to open Harbor House, an advocacy center in Rome for abused children.

He said the mother of the abused 3-year-old severed parental rights. "She went into a foster home and was later adopted. She ought to be about 14 years old now."

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