Atlanta Foster Care Reforms Lagging, New Report Says

ATLANTA, GA — In spite of some improvements, the Atlanta foster care system is still failing to make required progress toward reform in many critical areas, according to a new, court-ordered monitoring report released today.

The independent report was required under the 2005 settlement of Kenny A. v. Perdue, a federal class action brought against the state of Georgia by the national watchdog group Children’s Rights on behalf of approximately 2,800 children in foster care. The report notes improvements in preventing overcrowding in foster homes, keeping siblings together in foster care, and placing children in foster care within 50 miles of their home communities. But it also spotlights serious remaining problems that place Atlanta’s foster children at risk of harm, including:

  • Inadequate health services. Nearly a third (31 percent) of children entering foster care did not receive timely health checkups, and almost two-thirds (65 percent) did not receive timely dental checkups. More than 40 percent of children who had medical needs identified at initial or periodic checkups did not receive appropriate treatment, and 23 percent received no treatment at all. Mental health assessments identified treatment needs for 71 percent of Atlanta children in foster care, but less than half received treatment for all of their identified needs, and there was no documentation of any treatment for 35 percent of them.
  • Poor monitoring of foster homes. Caseworkers responsible for assessing the safety and well-being of children in foster care were found to have made required monthly visits to foster caregivers only 45 percent of the time–half the 90 percent benchmark required by the Kenny A. settlement. The state also failed to conduct comprehensive drug screening for 43 percent of foster parents, and background checks through the sex-offender registry were not completed for 23 percent. When the homes of children’s relatives were used as foster homes, the report found over 40 percent had not been properly screened.
  • Failure to work with families toward fast and safe reunification. In cases where the goal is to reunify children with their parents, only 25 percent of the families were given adequate visitation to progress toward reunification–one-third of the percentage required under the Kenny A. settlement.

A key component of the Kenny A. settlement is a set of 31 improvement benchmarks or “outcome measures” that the state must meet, often at phased-in intervals. Of the 25 measures that were due for the current reporting period, Georgia failed to meet 17. Today’s report, the third to be released since the settlement, covers the period from January 1 to June 30, 2007. The full text of the latest report and is available here.

“There’s a real desire at Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services to improve services for the abused and neglected children in its care, but the pace of reform is lagging,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “And behind all the numbers in these reports are vulnerable children whose prospects for normal, healthy lives diminish with every day they do not receive the care and services they need.”

Children’s Rights, along with the Atlanta law firm Bondurant, Mixson and Elmore, LLP, filed the Kenny A. class action in 2002 against Governor Sonny Perdue and state officials responsible for the Georgia Department of Human Resources and its Division of Family and Children Services. The lawsuit charged that the foster care system in Atlanta was underfunded, mismanaged, and failing to protect the safety and well-being of children in state custody. The 2005 settlement requires Georgia to make sweeping reforms to its foster care system in the metropolitan Atlanta area and to meet specific reform goals in service to children.

Chris Iseli or Brooks Halliday // 212.683.2210