Atlanta Foster Care System Sustaining Many Improvements Under Federal Court Order, But Some Serious Problems Remain, Latest Report Shows

(Atlanta) — While the state’s foster care system in metropolitan Atlanta (Fulton and DeKalb counties) has been able to maintain many improvements–despite a recent increase in children entering the system–the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) still has significant work to do to meet court-ordered improvements for foster kids, according to a progress report covering the first half of 2011.

As of June of this year, 99 percent of case managers had appropriate caseloads; some had even fewer cases than required, making it the state’s best performance on caseloads to date. The state also turned in its best-ever performances with reducing maltreatment in foster care and the rate of “re-entry” — children who leave the foster care system, usually through reunification with their parents or adoption, and then suffer further abuse or neglect and re-enter foster care.

“We’ve found DHS Commissioner Reese very willing to discuss the agency’s progress and its remaining problems, and to be accountable for meeting all of the court-ordered reforms to improve the lives of foster children,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights, the national advocacy organization that filed the suit. “While the state has improved in a number of key areas, it’s falling far short on others. We will remain vigilant to ensure that all of the required improvements for children are realized.”

One problem is that despite an agency policy that requires every report of abuse or neglect of a foster child to be fully investigated, the independent monitors found multiple cases of reports of abuse or neglect of foster children were “screened out” without the required investigation. Another issue is that foster kids are not getting their required health checks ups — 52 percent of kids did not receive timely initial dental exams, 42 percent of kids did not receive timely initial mental health or developmental exams and 30 percent of kids did not receive a required medical exam before leaving state custody.

There is also a failure to provide timely permanent homes for foster children. The report found that only 67 percent of children who had been freed for adoption were adopted within one year, despite a requirement that at least 80 percent of children get adopted within that timeframe. While the agency has been doing better on this measure, significant improvements are still needed to ensure that foster children do not languish in state custody.

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-area foster care systems and to achieve specific benchmarks for progress. Today’s six-month progress report is the eleventh issued since the Kenny A. case was settled.

The full text of today’s report and all previous monitoring reports, as well as the initial complaint and recent contempt motion that Children’s Rights filed against the state of Georgia, can be found at www.childrensrights.org/georgia.