(New York, NY) – While the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) is still making improvements to Metro Atlanta foster care, the agency is struggling with caseloads of child abuse investigators, the handling of maltreatment reports and the screening of foster homes, according to the latest report on the implementation of reforms in Fulton and DeKalb Counties.
The report, covering the last six months of 2013, was submitted by court-appointed “accountability agents” as part of the comprehensive reform lawsuit mounted by Children’s Rights and Atlanta firm Bondurant Mixson and Elmore LLP. It is being released as Bobby Cagle takes over this month as director of DFCS, a leadership position that has changed hands many times in recent years. Attorneys for the plaintiff children will meet with Director Cagle and his leadership team in August to discuss the latest report.
One of the most significant problems highlighted in the report is the handling of child maltreatment allegations:
• Initiating maltreatment investigations. Only 84 percent of investigations were initiated on time, a dip in performance that is short of the 95 percent benchmark.
• Interviewing victims. Performance also fell for conducting timely interviews with alleged victims of child maltreatment (84 percent compliance with a requirement of 99 percent).
• The quality of investigations. While compliance had been reported at 91 percent just 18 months ago, only 78 percent of investigations this monitoring period contained evidence that a complete Child Protective Services (CPS) history had been reviewed by the investigator, a factor the accountability agents deemed “unacceptable.”
The report also notes a spike in the caseloads of investigators. As of December 31, 2013, a full 30 percent of all CPS investigators had caseloads over the court-mandated limit of 12, ranging from 14 to 50 cases each.
“As we begin work with another leader, our main focus will be the considerable safety concerns that require immediate, heightened attention from DFCS,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “There are definitely strengths within the agency that the new leadership can build upon, gains that have been hard won over recent years. But until the agency can address the issues that put children at risk, these positives will be overshadowed.”
On the positive front, the report notes improvements in keeping children assigned to the same case manager (97 percent compliance) and in ensuring that annual court reviews are conducted on kids’ safety and progress toward placement in a permanent home (98 percent compliance). The report also shows progress in meeting children’s basic service needs, especially with regard to health care, which has been a longstanding problem area for DFCS. The report says that all basic service needs were met for 81 percent of children, just short of the 85 percent benchmark, but the state’s strongest performance to date.
Children’s Rights and Bondurant Mixson and Elmore LLP filed the federal class action known as Kenny A. v. Perdue in 2002 on behalf of all children in foster care in Atlanta. In 2005, plaintiff’s counsel reached a court-enforceable settlement agreement with state officials, requiring Georgia to make sweeping reforms to the Atlanta-area foster care systems and to achieve specific benchmarks for progress.