Atlanta Monitoring Foster Children More Carefully, But Still Failing to Provide Critical Services

ATLANTA, GA — Three years after the state of Georgia undertook a major effort to reform the Atlanta child welfare system under a federal court order secured by Children’s Rights, the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) has improved its oversight of abused and neglected children in state custody, says a new report issued today. But the report also shows that DFCS is still falling short in its implementation of court-ordered reforms in several key areas — and must heighten its efforts to comply with the court order regardless of budgetary concerns, Children’s Rights officials say.

(PDF) credits DFCS with increasing face-to-face contact between children and the caseworkers responsible for ensuring their well-being and placing more children in state-licensed foster homes that have undergone adequate background checks and safety screenings. But it also underscores DFCS’s continued failure to deliver health care and other critical services to children, and its lack of progress in finding permanent homes for many children who have remained in state custody for years. And though the report notes a decline in the rate of abuse or neglect among children in Atlanta foster care — a first in what had been a steady upward trend since 2005 — that rate still far exceeds the standards mandated by the court order.

“It’s encouraging that caseworkers are finally visiting children in their foster care placements, and that DFCS appears to be monitoring those placements more carefully,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “But too many kids are still not getting basic health care services or a chance for a permanent home out of state custody, and we will continue to push state officials to heighten their efforts in these areas.”

Lustbader also noted the dangers that recent cost-cutting measures pose to the ongoing reforms. “Georgia has begun furloughing case workers and denying basic cost-of-living increases in support payments to foster families,” Lustbader said. “DFCS is putting both the progress it has made and the children in its care at great risk if it continues down this path.”

Children’s Rights, along with the Atlanta law firm Bondurant, Mixson and Elmore LLP, filed the reform class action known as Kenny A. v. Perdue against the state of Georgia in 2002, on behalf of all children in foster care in Atlanta (approximately 1,900 at present). In 2005, Children’s Rights and state officials reached a court-enforceable settlement agreement requiring Georgia to make sweeping reforms to the Atlanta foster care system and to achieve specific benchmarks for progress. Today’s six-month progress report, authored by independent, court-appointed monitors and required under the court order, is the fifth issued since the Kenny A. case was settled.

The report, which covers the first half of 2008, notes the following improvements:

However, the report also highlights serious ongoing problems:

In August of 2008, the Division’s ongoing failure to meet court-ordered requirements for these two categories of children stuck in foster care was the subject of a contempt motion filed by Children’s Rights against the state. Children’s Rights and state officials are currently attempting to negotiate a new action plan to address that problem area, which, if agreed upon, would halt contempt proceedings — but leave open the option of returning to court if adequate progress is not made in a reasonable amount of time.

The full text of today’s report and all previous monitoring reports, as well as the initial complaint and recent contempt motion that Children’s Rights filed against the state of Georgia, can be found at www.childrensrights.org/georgia.

Media Contacts:
Chris Iseli or Brooks Halliday // 212.683.2210