Latest Report on Metro Atlanta Child Welfare Finds ‘Stressed Workforce, A Taxed Infrastructure and Diminished Quality’ of Abuse Investigations

New corrective action plan reached to lower caseloads

(New York, NY) – While the Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) is still making improvements to Metro Atlanta foster care, the agency is struggling with rising caseloads, especially those of child abuse investigators, the handling of maltreatment reports and identifying and meeting the needs of children in foster care, according to a report released Wednesday on the implementation of reforms in Fulton and DeKalb Counties.

The report, covering the first six months of 2014, was submitted by court-appointed “Accountability Agents” as part of the comprehensive reform lawsuit – known as the Kenny A. case – mounted by Children’s Rights and Atlanta firm Bondurant Mixson & Elmore LLP.

The most significant problem highlighted in the report is the continued spike in the caseloads of child protective services (CPS) investigators, who are charged with responding to allegations of child abuse and neglect. The number of abuse reports made per month more than doubled from 566 in August 2013 to 1,166 in September 2014. During this same time period, the amount of maltreatment reports that caseworkers had to handle increased by 162 percent and the number of children who entered foster care increased by 16 percent.

The report states that “with more referrals, more investigations, and more children entering care, it should be no surprise that signs of a stressed workforce, a taxed infrastructure, and diminished quality are evident in this report.” Key problem areas listed in the report include:

  • Delayed response times to CPS referrals;
  • Growing caseloads;
  • An increased proportion of “screened out” referrals;
  • Coordination problems between central intake and county office staff, resulting in “dropped balls” and “missed opportunities”;
  • Longer stays in temporary foster care placements;
  • More placement instability;
  • More re-entries into foster care;
  • Higher staff-turnover.

The report on Metro Atlanta foster care reform comes a week after Governor Nathan Deal’s Child Welfare Reform Council released a report and recommendations to improve child welfare throughout the state. In his State of the State address this week, Governor Deal said he plans to continue to fund additional resources to meet the needs of workers statewide who are dealing with a growth in child welfare investigations. He also plans to create a mentor program for supervisors, provide for greater career and salary growth potential for workers and focus on caseworker safety.

“This is a critical time for DFCS, as it must rapidly get staffing resources under control to safely manage the increase in abuse reports now and prevent future workforce crises,” said Ira Lustbader, litigation director of Children’s Rights. “We are encouraged by the heightened attention being paid by Governor Deal and the Child Welfare Reform Council to improving workloads and supporting caseworkers throughout Georgia.”

Department leadership and Plaintiffs in the Kenny A. case have agreed to a new modified corrective action plan to lower caseloads. It requires DFCS to continue intensive hiring efforts, revise and implement a case manager recruitment and retention plan, improve CPS caseload performance with specific target dates and generate weekly CPS caseload reports.

On the positive front, the report on Metro Atlanta notes improvements in several areas. The report found DFCS is at 97 percent compliance when it comes to the screening of foster homes, 99 percent compliance for conducting timely permanency hearings for children in care more than one year, and 95 percent compliance for providing discharge planning and medical exams to children leaving foster care.

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, Plaintiff’s counsel reached a court-enforceable settlement agreement with state officials, requiring Georgia to make specific reforms to the Atlanta-area foster care systems and to achieve specific benchmarks for progress.