Children’s Rights, along with co-counsel Bondurant Mixson & Elmore LLP in Atlanta, filed this case against the governor of Georgia and state and county officials on behalf of a class of all children in Fulton and DeKalb County foster care (metropolitan Atlanta), and a class of African-American children in foster care, alleging violations of their federal and state rights to adequate protection and services while in state custody. The alleged unlawful policies and practices of the Defendants, including: burdening caseworkers with dangerously high caseloads that prevented workers from visiting children and compromised safety oversight; placing children in deplorable emergency shelters and other unsafe facilities and homes; shuffling children in foster care among many placements; and denying basic health care. The Complaint also included claims against county officials for violating children’s right to counsel in all juvenile court proceedings — attorneys assigned to children had caseloads of up to 500 children per attorney, making adequate and zealous representation impossible.
STATE CONSENT DECREE
Thanks to the state Consent Decree, and the efforts of Children’s Rights and the court-appointed monitors, we have has succeeded in bringing about substantial reforms in Georgia. According to the most recent monitoring report:
- Dangerous emergency shelters have been permanently shut down in Fulton and DeKalb Counties, and family homes are now used for emergency or temporary placements.
- Children experience fewer moves while in foster care (90% compliant with standards).
- Children on a reunification track are visiting with parents regularly (92% compliant with standards).
- DFCS has made significant improvements in keeping children assigned to the same case manager (97% compliant with standards).
However, the most recent report flags a number of areas of inadequate performance:
- Only 84 percent of abuse or neglect investigations of children in foster care were initiated on time, a drop in performance that is short of the 95 percent benchmark.
- After a positive move to a statewide abuse hotline in late 2013, an increase in reports of child abuse or neglect caused a spike in the caseloads of child protective services (CPS) investigators, compromising the quality of investigations and creating an urgent need to stabilize staffing.
- Performance suffered when it came to conducting timely interviews with alleged victims of maltreatment in care (84% compliant, with a requirement of 99%).
- Only 78 percent of abuse investigations contained evidence that a complete Child Protective Services (CPS) history had been reviewed by the investigator, a critical safety component.
Defendants will exit monitoring once they have complied with the required improvements in the Consent Decree and have held that performance for three consecutive six-month reporting periods.
RIGHT TO COUNSEL CONSENT DECREES
As a result of the right-to-counsel consent decrees with DeKalb Counties, spurred by a landmark decision by the federal court recognizing children’s due process right to counsel, the counties have transformed their delivery of legal representation for children:
- In DeKalb County, improvements included a dramatic sustained reduction in the caseloads of attorneys who represent children in foster care, from just two lawyers representing 500 children each in 2002, to 11 full-time attorneys representing fewer than 100 children by the time the county successfully exited from the lawsuit in 2008.
- In Fulton County, the largest metro-Atlanta county, improvements included reduced caseloads for attorneys representing foster children, from an average of 400 cases in 2002 to 63 children per lawyer by the time the county successfully exited from the lawsuit in 2010. Attorney staffing increased from 4 to 18 full time lawyers (even as the population of children in foster care decreased by 40%), and the county hired trained investigators, social workers and an education advocate, all to better advocate for the needs of children.
At the time the complaint was filed, there were nine named plaintiffs, including Kara B., Sabrina and Korrina E., and Maya C.
Kara B., a 14-year-old girl, had up to 15 different placements before ending up in a residential treatment facility where she was sexually abused by a staff member.
Sabrina E. and Korrina E., African-American sisters (3 years old and 1 year old), were deprived of speedy adoptions because the couple who wanted to adopt them was not African American.
Maya C., a spirited 17-year-old former honor student, became hopeless and abandoned her education after being placed in an emergency shelter.
Learn more about this case in the fact sheet here.