ATLANTA, GA — Facing the continued threat of contempt proceedings for violating the terms of a longstanding court order secured by Children’s Rights mandating the reform of the Atlanta child welfare system, Georgia officials have agreed to an aggressive new plan to reduce a persistent backlog of hundreds of children who have languished for years in foster care.
Under the terms of an agreement (PDF) filed jointly today by Children’s Rights and state officials, the state must work with national child welfare experts to undertake intensive reviews of the cases of all children in the backlog and develop and implement plans for moving them as quickly as possible into permanent homes. The state must also establish a specialized Permanency Unit to coordinate the efforts of disparate offices and individuals working on permanency issues within the state Division of Child and Family Services (DFCS) and identify private agencies with relevant expertise and contract them to provide assistance as needed.
If approved, today’s order would resolve the motion for contempt brought against the state by Children’s Rights and co-counsel in August 2008, which charged DFCS with failing to take adequate steps to find permanent homes for nearly 650 children who have languished in its custody since before October 2005. Achieving permanency for these children is a key requirement of the court-enforceable settlement agreement reached in the federal class action known as Kenny A. v. Perdue, filed by Children’s Rights and the Atlanta law firm Bondurant, Mixson and Elmore LLPin 2002 on behalf of the approximately 2,000 children in foster care citywide.
“With this agreement, DFCS has made a commitment to take every reasonable step to ensure that the children who have been languishing in its custody will not spend the rest of their childhood as wards of the state,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “We hope that, with the assistance of national experts, DFCS will finally be able to make some real progress in this area, but we will continue to monitor its efforts, and we reserve the right to go back to court if they fail to meet their obligations.”
Among the requirements of today’s agreement:
- DFCS must work with national experts to develop and implement individualized plans for moving children currently languishing in foster care into permanent homes. With the assistance of the national child welfare service provider Casey Family Programs, the state must establish Permanency Roundtables to begin reviewing the cases of all children in its backlog by January 2009, developing or revising permanency strategies for each child.
- DFCS must identify private agencies with specialized expertise in permanency achievement and contract external agencies as needed to assist in finding permanent homes for the children in its backlog. Casey Family Programs will assist DFCS with this initiative.
- DFCS must establish a specialized Permanency Unit to consolidate and coordinate the efforts of disparate DFCS units working on permanency issues. Casey Family Programs will assist DFCS with this initiative.
- DFCS will report regularly on its progress and steps taken to achieve these requirements.
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 the state to achieve and sustain a set of 31 outcome measures for child welfare reform in the metropolitan Atlanta area. The full text of the Kenny A. settlement agreement, the contempt motion and semiannual monitoring reports documenting the performance of DFCS are available at www.childrensrights.org/georgia.
Chris Iseli or Brooks Halliday // 212.683.2210