Atlanta Child Welfare Reform Efforts Slipping in Critical Areas

ATLANTA, GA — Rates of abuse and neglect among children in the custody of Atlanta’s child welfare system continue to rise and critical service needs for children and their families are not being met, according to a new report issued today by the court-appointed independent monitors in the federal class action reform lawsuit brought against state officials by the national advocacy group Children’s Rights on behalf of the more than 2,500 children in Atlanta foster care.

Although the report notes sustained improvements in some of the problem areas identified in the lawsuit and limited progress toward some of the benchmarks mandated by the court-enforceable settlement agreement in the case, the DeKalb and Fulton County offices of the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) are still falling short on 21 of the 28 outcome measures evaluated — far short, in some instances.

“Atlanta’s child welfare system is still failing miserably at protecting children in foster care from abuse, getting them the treatment and care they need, and moving them quickly into safe, healthy, permanent homes,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “These are core functions of any child welfare system, and until DFCS makes some real progress in these crucial areas, children in Atlanta foster care will continue to be at great risk of very serious harm.”

The report, which covers the state’s performance in DeKalb and Fulton Counties during the second half of 2007, is mandated by the 2005 settlement of the lawsuit, known as Kenny A. v. Perdue. It notes slow but steady progress in reducing caseloads for foster care workers, preventing children from re-entering foster care, and placing children in foster care close to their home communities and together with their siblings. But the monitors also spotlight serious remaining problems:

  • Children are being abused and neglected in DFCS placements at steadily increasing rates. The rate of maltreatment in foster care grew to 1.01 percent — almost double the Kenny A. settlement’s requirement, set in 2005, of no more than 0.57 percent and more than three times the current national threshold of 0.32 percent set by the federal Administration for Children and Families, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. This rate has steadily worsened over all four reporting periods since the settlement of the lawsuit, rising from 0.54 percent according to the first monitoring report to today’s high mark.
  • Too many children are languishing in DFCS foster care placements with no movement toward permanent homes. Among children who had been in foster care for up to 24 months, only one in five (20 percent) was moved to a permanent living arrangement — half the number required by the court-ordered benchmark of 40 percent. Among children in foster care longer than 24 months, fewer than one in ten (9 percent) achieved permanency — a fraction of the required 35 percent.
  • DFCS is failing to provide children with adequate health care services. Fully 75 percent of children entering foster care in Atlanta did not receive timely dental checkups, and 29 percent of children who had medical needs identified during health screenings received no treatment at all during this monitoring period. Another 10 percent received treatment that was insufficient to meet their needs. For more than one-third (34 percent) of children with identified mental health needs, there was no documentation that those needs had been addressed.

The Kenny A. settlement requires Georgia to achieve and sustain a set of 31 outcome measures for child welfare reform. Today’s report, the fourth to be released since the settlement, evaluated DFCS’s progress toward 28 of those measures and shows the state failing to meet 21 of them.

Children’s Rights, along with the Atlanta law firm Bondurant, Mixson and Elmore LLP, filed the Kenny A. class action in 2002 against Governor Sonny Perdue and state officials responsible for the Georgia Department of Human Resources and its Division of Family and Children Services. The lawsuit charged that the foster care system in Atlanta was underfunded, mismanaged, and failing to protect the safety and well-being of children in state custody. The 2005 settlement requires Georgia to make sweeping reforms to its foster care system in the metropolitan Atlanta area and to meet specific reform goals in service to children.

Media Contacts:
Chris Iseli or Brooks Halliday // 212.683.2210