Children’s Rights in Ga are demanding access to records of DFCS


15 Mar 2010 / Posted by cr

ATLANTA, GA — The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (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, according to papers filed in federal court today by Children’s Rights.

Children’s Rights is asking the federal court to allow the organization access to DFCS records that advocates believe will demonstrate the state agency is attempting to artificially suppress child abuse and neglect investigations and lower the number of children in foster care by misusing alternatives to foster care. The result of such actions would be denying abused and neglected children vital legal protections offered to kids who are brought to the attention of the Juvenile Court.

If the evidence sought by Children’s Rights bears out these charges, DFCS’s actions would constitute a violation of a longstanding federal court order to reform the Atlanta child welfare system — itself the result of a class action brought by Children’s Rights and the Atlanta law firm Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore LLP on behalf of thousands of abused and neglected children in Fulton and DeKalb Counties. Today’s motion comes on the heels of a recent report showing DFCS is backsliding in its implementation of the reforms mandated by the federal court.

“Intensive family preservation services are important and can be very effective tools to reduce the need for foster care and avoid the unnecessary trauma of separating families, but only if they are used appropriately and safely,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “The misuse of these programs to suppress the number of investigations and the number of kids in foster care can be extremely dangerous for both the child and family, and we must immediately determine if that is the case in Atlanta.”

Today’s motion (PDF) draws heavily on multiple investigations conducted by the Georgia Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) over the last three years, which showed that dramatic reductions in the number of children in foster care and the number of reports of abuse that even get investigated have been accomplished in part by the state agency’s misuse of two strategies — diversion and safety resources — designed to support families and prevent children from being placed into foster care unnecessarily.

Diversion, also referred to as family support, aims to avoid conducting a formal child abuse investigation by helping families who struggle with problems that may primarily stem from poverty issues and do not present an immediate threat to the child’s safety. According to the OCA investigations, there is evidence that DFCS is too quick to shift families to family support programs, even in cases of actual child maltreatment, and in that process is failing to investigate serious allegations of abuse and neglect.

The other strategy employed by DFCS is the use of homes called safety resources, where parents can voluntarily place their child with a relative or family friend while accessing community services or being investigated for abuse or neglect. Though the state’s policies clearly state that safety resources must pass basic safety screens and should only be used as a short-term solution, OCA reported that many children have been found left in unscreened and unmonitored homes for extremely long periods of time without any support from the agency.

OCA’s most recent report from July 2009 (PDF) concluded that DFCS appears to use these tactics to “avoid the involvement of the juvenile court in the child protection process, thereby depriving the child and family of the many legal and practical benefits the court offers and circumventing purposeful federal and state child protection schemes.”

Children’s Rights has exhausted several good-faith efforts over the last several months to obtain necessary documents both through DFCS and the independent monitors appointed by the federal court. Both the agency and the monitors claimed the requests were outside the scope of the 2005 federal court order secured by Children’s Rights.

Today’s filing argues that if the state is in fact misusing diversion and safety resources, as evidenced by OCA’s research, the agency is not only cheating these families and their children of the due process benefits of court involvement, but is also denying them the protections of the federal class action. Therefore Children’s Rights is requesting federal court intervention for access to the state’s policy and procedures related to diversion and the use of safety resources, as well as information on all children and families involved in either program in calendar year 2009.

Children’s Rights, along with the Atlanta law firm Bondurant, Mixson and Elmore LLP, filed the reform class action known as Kenny A. v. Perdue against the state of Georgia in 2002, on behalf of all children in foster care in Atlanta. In 2005, Children’s Rights and its Atlanta co-counsel reached a court-enforceable settlement agreement with state officials requiring Georgia to make sweeping reforms to the Atlanta foster care system and to achieve specific benchmarks for progress.

All related information on Children’s Rights’ campaign to reform Atlanta’s child welfare system can be found at http://www.childrensrights.org/georgia.

About yvonnemason

Background:  The eldest of five children, Yvonne was born May 17, 1951 in Atlanta, Georgia. Raised in East Point, Georgia, she moved to Jackson County, Ga. until 2006 then moved to Port St. Lucie, Florida where she currently makes her home.  Licensed bounty hunter for the state of Georgia. Education:  After a 34 year absence, returned to college in 2004. Graduated with honors in Criminal Justice with an Associate’s degree from Lanier Technical College in 2006. Awards:  Nominated for the prestigious GOAL award in 2005 which encompasses all of the technical colleges. This award is based not only on excellence in academics but also leadership, positive attitude and the willingness to excel in one’s major. Affiliations:  Beta Sigma Phi Sorority  Member of The Florida Writer’s Association – Group Leader for St Lucie County The Dream:  Since learning to write at the age of five, Yvonne has wanted to be an author. She wrote her first novel Stan’s Story beginning in 1974 and completed it in 2006. Publication seemed impossible as rejections grew to 10 years. Determined, she continued adding to the story until her dream came true in 2006. The Inspiration:  Yvonne’s brother Stan has been her inspiration and hero in every facet of her life. He was stricken with Encephalitis at the tender age of nine months. He has defied every roadblock placed in his way and has been the driving force in every one of her accomplishments. He is the one who taught her never to give up The Author: Yvonne is currently the author of several novels, including:  Stan’s Story- the true story of her brother’s accomplishments, it has been compared to the style of Capote, and is currently being rewritten with new information for re-release.  Tangled Minds - a riveting story about a young girl’s bad decision and how it taints everyone’s life around her yet still manages to show that hope is always possible. This novel has been compared to the writing of Steinbeck and is currently being written as a screenplay. This novel will be re-released by Kerlak Publishing in 2009  Brilliant Insanity – released by Kerlak Publishing October 2008  Silent Scream – Released by Lulu.com October 2008- Slated to be made into a movie Yvonne’s Philosophy in Life - “Pay it Forward”: “In this life we all have been helped by others to attain our dreams and goals. We cannot pay it back but what we can do is ‘pay it forward’. It is a simple
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