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Kudos to the Division of Family and Children Services for committing resources to the education of children in foster care!

An article in today’s AJC announces DFCS’s plans to use federal stimulus dollars to hire 150 certified teachers to tutor the 3,000 Georgia foster children who are falling behind in school. According to the article foster children in Fulton and DeKalb counties fail the 3rd grade math CRCT at twice the rate and the 8th grade math CRCT at triple the rate of their non-foster care peers.

Children in foster care have experienced trauma and upheaval in their lives that make them vulnerable to many poor outcomes. It is essential that we target resources to help them succeed and this program appears to be a solid commitment to doing just that.

DFCS and the GA Dept of Education have been working together for a while now to share data and to examine ways they can partner to improve student success. Voices commends the efforts of DFCS to share the responsibility for educating these children and we encourage all state agencies and non-profits working with children and parents to do the same.

We also encourage DFCS to collect data on the effectiveness of the program and to openly share the results with the community so successes can be built upon and challenges addressed.

Beth Locker

Policy Director

Among other good news for children in the healthcare reform bill passed by Congress on March 23 is a commitment to reduce child abuse and neglect through home visitation programs.  The bill authorizes $1.5 billion over five years to be awarded as grants to states for services to families with infants and young children.  

Here’s the challenge for Georgia:  In order to receive funds the state must conduct assessments of factors indicating need for services and existing home visiting programs to ensure better targeting and coordination.   The assessments must be done within six months, and the clock started ticking on March 23. 

Which of our state agencies will step forward to lead this effort?  DFCS which has about $900,000 in one model of home visitation?  Public Health which is newly re-organizing with a strong interest but no designated funding?  The Governor’s Office for Children and Families which absorbed the Children’s Trust Fund , once but no longer a major source of home visiting funding?  The Department of Early Care and Learning which has an inherent interest in the age group but no history or funding for early intervention programs?

Georgia’s children desperately need these programs.  Child abuse is greatest among very young children.  Home visitation programs have proven to reduce child abuse and neglect and have promise of improving child development for later learning.  Advocates need to step up and encourage state agency leadership and collaboration to get these assessments done now.  The clock is ticking.

Pat Willis, Executive Director

Voices for Georgia’s Children, www.georgiavoices.org

DFCS may be endangering the safety and well-being of thousands of vulnerable children by diverting them from the custody of the state child welfare system and failing to provide the services and protections necessary to keep them safe

See press release at Georgia Child Welfare Practices May Risk Kids’ Lives, Children’s Rights Advocates Charge in Federal Court.

Children’s Rights, Inc. a national advocacy group working to reform child welfare systems, largely through major class action lawsuits, filed a motion in federal court earlier this week in an effort to force the State to turn over documents related to diversion, safety resources and temporary guardianships of children in Fulton and DeKalb counties.

Based largely on reports by the Office of the Child Advocate, Children’s Rights states a concern that DFCS is misusing both diversions and safety resources to artificially suppress the number of investigations and the number of kids in foster care and that the result is leaving abused and neglected children in danger and denying  them basic legal protections.

The motion was filed as a part of the class action lawsuit known as Kenny A. v. Perdue that was first filed against the state in 2002. It will now be up to the federal court judge to decide if DFCS must turn over the requested documents.

Beth
Policy Director
Voices for Georgia’s Children
www.georgiavoices.org

In these lean budget times, there’s a lot of talk about “right-sizing” government. Recently I’ve also heard people speak of what government “must” do versus what government “should” do and that in these tough times, we have to let a lot of the “shoulds” go. But indulge me for a moment as I think about kids.

The other day one of my colleagues pointed out a few “shoulds” for kids. Kids should do their homework and they should brush their teeth every day. Technically, these aren’t “musts.” If they don’t do their homework this weekend, they’re not going to be expelled from school on Monday. If they don’t brush their teeth tonight, they’re not going to see all their teeth fall out by Tuesday. That said, even in tough times, we still make our kids do their homework and brush their teeth. Why? Because we know there are serious long term consequences if they fail to act responsibly today. The same is true for government, especially when it comes to caring for our kids and planning for the future of our state. That is why we MUST not continue to cut the budget of the Department of Human Services (DHS) in a manner that hurts kids. We have to fund some of the “shoulds,” even if it requires increases in revenue.

One of the biggest concerns I have about the proposed DHS budget [summary available on DHS’s home page. Scroll down to Joint Appropriations Committee Presentation] is the attempt to “save” money by putting additional responsibilities on existing workers. Those existing workers are already way over-burdened and shifting more responsibility to them, will simply result in the work not getting done – not because the workers don’t care, but because the workers have reached a breaking point, they are already stretched beyond all measure and cannot be asked to do more.

A few key points about the DHS budget:

–         At a time when more people are unemployed and thus needing help – including help to feed their children, the state is reducing the number of eligibility workers.

  • When it comes to children, helping eligible people access food stamps and other essential safety net services is not a should, it’s a must.

–         At a time of greater stress for families because of the economic situation, we’re investigating fewer cases of child abuse and neglect but also cutting in-home case management contracts by $2 million.

  • Those in-home services help families whose children were diverted from state custody but are considered at risk of abuse and neglect.
  • Protecting children from abuse and neglect is not a should, it’s a must.

Evidence says our DHS workers are already at a breaking point.

–         The most recent report from federal monitors appointed due to a lawsuit against the state related to conditions in the child welfare system shows a significant reduction in oversight of private placements for children in foster care at the same time we’ve seen an increased percentage of children abused while in state custody (abuse rate in report is double that allowed by the lawsuit settlement and triple the newer federal standard).

–         The same report shows a dangerous drop in case workers meeting the requirement to visit children in foster care twice a month. Goal is 95% of children visit with their case managers twice a month. Last report shows only 51% of cases reviewed met that standard.

–         Maybe even scarier, the most recent Child Fatality Review Panel report reveals more than a 30% increase in “homicide deaths associated with maltreatment findings.”

–         Also check out TV news coverage of the situation in Fulton County.

Is protecting children a should or must? Apparently not all of us see eye-to-eye. What do you think?

beth

Admins/Authors

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