Child Advocates, State Officials Agree to Streamlined Foster Care Reform Plan, Putting Fulton and Dekalb Counties on Path to Exit Court Oversight

Proposed Modified Consent Decree Reflects DFCS’s Recent Successes on Several Safety Measures and Its Commitment to Protect Children in Foster Care

(Atlanta, GA) – In recognition of some substantial improvements in Fulton and DeKalb counties’ foster care systems (metro Atlanta) and the need to hone in on specific focus areas, attorneys for Plaintiff children and State officials have agreed to a streamlined foster care reform plan—one that could put the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) on the path to exit court oversight.

Filed today in federal court in Atlanta, the new agreement (called the “proposed modified consent decree”) is the result of a full year of negotiations between the parties’ counsel with the assistance of the Court-appointed monitor, Karen Baynes-Dunning. The new agreement takes into account changes in best practice standards in foster care and replaces some outdated measures used to assess the State’s performance. The proposed modified consent decree requires approval of the Court.

In agreeing to the proposed modified consent decree, Plaintiffs’ counsel is recognizing the strengths within DFCS and of the leadership of its current director, Bobby Cagle. “Director Cagle’s strong leadership, combined with proper resources, is the mix that will really improve things for kids and families,” said Ira Lustbader, litigation director for Children’s Rights. “With this new agreement, we are optimistic that DFCS will continue to move in the right direction.”

The new agreement maximizes the expertise of Baynes-Dunning and the Monitoring and Technical Assistance Team (MTAT), which the Court appointed to oversee Fulton and DeKalb counties’ progress and assist in the implementation of the proposed consent decree. It modifies the current consent decree in key areas, such as the following:

  • Placements for children in state care: If a child is placed in more than one temporary facility for more than 30 days, the State must notify the Monitor. Similarly, if a child is brought to a county DFCS office between 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m., the State must report each occurrence to the Monitor. Moreover, the new agreement formalizes the State’s commitment to phase out the use of hotels as placements for children in foster care.
  • In-Placement Visitation: The new agreement also requires that visitation with children in all foster care placements occurs earlier to ensure the appropriateness of the placements and the well-being of the children in them.

“To be certain, the State’s hard work is far from finished,” said David Brackett of the Atlanta firm Bondurant Mixson & Elmore LLP, co-counsel for Plaintiff children. “It will take a concerted effort to take DFCS into the home stretch and ensure the safety and well-being of children in Fulton and DeKalb counties’ foster care. As DFCS does so, it will have this new agreement, which provides important public accountability and a path to exit from court oversight.”

Children’s Rights and Bondurant Mixson & Elmore LLP filed the federal class action known as Kenny A. in 2002 on behalf of all children in foster care in Atlanta. In 2005, the parties reached a court-enforceable settlement agreement with State officials, requiring Georgia to make a number of specific reforms to the Atlanta-area foster care systems and to achieve specific benchmarks for progress. Modifications were last made to the consent decree in 2015.