Atlanta Child Welfare System Posts Best Results to Date in Court-Ordered Reform Effort

ATLANTA, GA — The Atlanta child welfare system performed better in the second half of 2008 than ever before in implementing widespread reforms required under a federal court order secured by Children’s Rights, according to a new progress report, keeping abused and neglected children safer in foster care and acting faster to return children who recently entered foster care to the stability of permanent homes through either safe reunification with their families or adoption.

The (PDF), issued Friday by the independent monitors appointed by the court to track the reforms, also credits the state-run Departments of Family and Children Services (DFCS) of Fulton and DeKalb Counties with improving visitation between parents and children slated for reunification, placing more children in foster care close to their home communities, and ensuring that foster homes are fully licensed and free from overcrowding.

But caseloads edged higher for child welfare workers responsible for both investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect and visiting children in their foster homes to ensure their safety and well-being. And the monitors express concern in the report that the effects of the economic downturn in Georgia — which have already forced the state to institute mandatory furlough days for DFCS workers — may further hinder progress. Budget and service cuts have deepened further since the end of the period covered by the report, which ran from July 1 through December 31, 2008.

Additionally, the agency’s performance remains unsatisfactory on some reform measures critical to children’s well-being that have long been areas of concern — including important health screenings for children in foster care and initial assessments of their treatment needs as they enter foster care.

“There are still some things about the Atlanta child welfare system that must be improved to ensure that the abused and neglected kids who depend on it receive the protection and care they need, but the progress highlighted in today’s report is encouraging,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “DFCS has demonstrated that it is capable of acting decisively to correct persistent problems, even in the face of difficult economic circumstances, and now the agency must keep up its efforts to address the remaining challenges noted by the report and guard against further backsliding.”

Lustbader cited several areas that the report says DFCS must work harder to improve:

Among the highlights of the report illustrating the important progress DFCS has made:

The reform of the Atlanta child welfare system is required by the court-enforceable 2005 settlement of the federal class action known as Kenny A. v. Perdue, filed against the state of Georgia in 2002 by Children’s Rights and the Atlanta law firm Bondurant, Mixson, and Elmore LLP, on behalf of all children in foster care in Atlanta (approximately 1,900 at present).

Children’s Rights took further legal action in August 2008, asking the court to hold the state in contempt for its ongoing failure to find permanent homes for hundreds of children who had been languishing in foster care for years. Subsequent negotiations between state officials and Children’s Rights averted a contempt trial and produced an aggressive new plan in December 2008 to reduce the backlog of Atlanta foster children awaiting permanent homes. Although DFCS’s efforts on this measure are ongoing, the agency has yet to produce significant results.

Today’s report is the sixth since the settlement of the class action. To read the full text and learn more about Children’s Rights’ efforts to reform the Atlanta child welfare system, please visit www.childrensrights.org/georgia.

Related Press Coverage

Report: Georgia Agencies Improving Child Welfare (AP, June 19, 2009)