Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.
Georgia seeks tips in deaths of kids
State officials stepped up efforts to clean up Georgia's troubled child protective system on two fronts Wednesday.
Gov. Roy Barnes announced a new telephone hotline for tips relating to the deaths of 13 children and other abuses of youngsters, while the head of the state agency supervising the child protective system said internal moves are being made to better monitor at-risk kids.
Department of Human Resources Commissioner Audrey Horne told the agency's board of directors at its monthly meeting Wednesday that the problem-plagued Fulton County Department of Family and Children Services is one of the most critical areas in the state and that procedures are being developed to help overburdened caseworkers there.
Fulton DFACS has been targeted by state officials for special attention because of increasing criticism in recent months of how it handled some cases that resulted in the deaths of children.
"The complexity and intensity of issues we've seen in Fulton County make us want to start there," Horne said.
The Fulton County DFACS office was among six county welfare offices raided last week by GBI agents, who were ordered by Barnes to seize the files of 13 children who died after their families had been reported for abuse or neglect.
Among the Fulton County case files seized was that of 5-year-old Terrell Peterson of Atlanta, who died in January 1998 after eight reports alleged he and his siblings were being abused or neglected. The boy's grandmother, his mother and the mother's boyfriend have been charged in his death.
Horne said an independent Child Protective Services Task Force, which holds its first meeting next week, is expected to come up with new procedures for solving some of the problems within DFACS statewide, but that Fulton County needs more intensive oversight.
The task force will conduct open forums in 10 cities around the state between Feb. 1 and Feb. 23 to help its members identify problems in the system and possible solutions, Horne said.
No specific new procedures have been identified yet for Fulton County, she said, but Horne wants to try to give caseworkers a more precise definition of what constitutes risk to a child.
"One of the problems is that there is no clear definition of risk. Everybody has his own definition of what constitutes risk," she said. "But it scares me to death that we have children living in environments that we have said are safe and may not be."
Horne also said she wants to provide more DHR support for Fulton County caseworkers so that they won't have to individually shoulder the burden of decisions affecting at-risk children.
Barnes authorized the toll-free, 24-hour tip line after the GBI made its coordinated sweep through the six county DFACS offices.
"He's very concerned about any problems within the division of Child Protective Services. These were 13 egregious cases," said Barnes spokeswoman Joselyn Butler.
Anyone with information that could be helpful to the GBI in its investigation of Child Protective Services is asked to call 1-800-254-2064. Callers will be granted anonymity.
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