Report: Shortages in Staffing and Foster Homes Strain Metro-Atlanta Child Welfare System

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Contact: Wende Gozan Brown at 646-216-3329; wbrown@childrensrights.org

(ATLANTA) – The latest report on the state of foster care reform in Fulton and DeKalb counties, filed today in the federal court in Atlanta, cites troubling statistics about the current state of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) in those counties – including a significant decline in the number of case managers to monitor the safety and well-being of children served by DCFS. The report, which covers the state’s performance in the second half of 2016, comes on the heels of three child protection workers being fired for mishandling the case of 10-year-old Kentae Williams, whose once foster, then adoptive, father allegedly drowned him in DeKalb County. The investigation is ongoing.

The report analyzes progress on measures outlined in the Kenny A. v. Deal consent decree, the result of a federal class action filed by Children’s Rights and Bondurant Mixson & Elmore LLP. It shows:

  • The number of child protective services (CPS) case managers, who investigate reports of child abuse and neglect, declined by 25 percent, and the number of family preservation case managers, who work with at-risk families whose children are still living in the home, declined by 38 percent — leaving them with higher caseloads.
  • The timeliness and quality of investigations into reports of abuse and neglect in foster care declined during the six-month period covered in the report.
  • Supervisory support is compromised, with only 60 percent of supervisors meeting the 1-to-5 ratio for case managers, compared to 79 percent in the previous six-month monitoring period.
  • The shortage of appropriate foster homes is rising, leading to youth aged 12 and older being placed in some form of group or congregate care more than half of the time.

To help increase staffing and retention, Governor Deal’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget invests more than $96 million in additional funds for DFCS to increase pay for caseworkers and supervisors. In addition, a 2016 Modified Consent Decree and Exit Plan is structured to maximize the technical assistance of the Monitoring and Technical Assistance Team (MTAT). That team is responsible for providing public record reports on DFCS’ performance, including the report issued today.

“There are significant and dangerous obstacles that are undermining the state’s ability to comply with court-ordered reform,” said Christina Wilson Remlin, lead attorney at Children’s Rights. “We will remain vigilant to ensure innocent children are not falling through the cracks, but we are hopeful that under Commissioner Cagle’s leadership the increased budgetary resources and increased support from the monitoring team will help the agency achieve better performance.”

Such improvements will require a concerted effort. Stakeholders have indicated that, in addition to ongoing workforce struggles with caseloads and turnover, advocates flagged troubling deficiencies in mental health services for youth and concerns with older youth aging out without transition plans.

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 2016.

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