(Kenny A. v. Kemp, 1:02-cv-01686-TWT, N.D. Ga)
Contact: Camilla Jenkins, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Atlanta, GA) –A new infrastructure brief outlines specific measures that will allow Georgia to recover millions of dollars in federal reimbursement for child welfare programs, better manage contract agencies to ensure safer outcomes for children, and hold the state’s child welfare system to a higher operating standard. The report was filed by the court appointed accountability agent and monitoring and technical assistance team (MTAT) tasked with evaluating the Georgia Division of Child and Family Services’ (DFCS) compliance with the settlement terms of a federal class action lawsuit brought on behalf of children in foster care in Fulton and DeKalb Counties, Kenny A. v. Kemp.
The MTAT issued the report after seven months of investigation that included virtual meetings with DFCS staff, virtual focus groups with staff and stakeholders, case file reviews, an exhaustive review of DFCS’s processes for determining eligibility for federal reimbursement dollars, and an audit of DFCS’s administrative data that generated information on child and family outcomes.
Children’s Rights and Bondurant Mixson & Elmore LLP in Atlanta represent the class of children who filed suit nearly two decades ago alleging violations of their right to be safe and receive services while in state custody. As of result of the consent decree, DFCS has made substantial progress in improving outcomes for children. DFCS now provides more children in its custody with medical care, more frequently places children in care with their siblings, facilitates better caseworker-child and parent-child visitation, and finalizes more adoptions in a timely manner.
The latest recommendations and progress metrics will advance DFCS’s efforts to ensure good outcomes for children, but implementation will require a concerted effort. Stakeholders have indicated that, in addition to ongoing problems with high caseloads and staff turnover, there are troubling deficiencies in mental health services for youth, concerns with older youth aging out without transition plans, and flaws in providing affirming placements and services to LGBTQ youth — all exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The recommendations in this infrastructure brief provide DFCS with a road map to recover millions more dollars for services for children and families. It provides a pathway to monitor their providers to ensure better outcomes for children and it illustrates a way to conduct more rigorous quality assurance of its child welfare practice,” said Christina Wilson-Remlin, lead counsel for Children’s Rights. “Implementing these recommendations would be a game changer for children.”
David Brackett, partner at Bondurant, highlighted the fiscal implications of the MTAT’s recommendations: “The state should move quickly to execute the MTAT’s recommendations regarding federal reimbursement dollars to improve the efficiency with which money is obtained from the federal government. Discrete changes to the state’s paperwork and record keeping processes could result in millions of reimbursement dollars in the future. This is especially important in the face of budget cuts and a shrinking economy due to the pandemic.”
The Infrastructure brief details the progress made by the State in meeting predetermined outcomes from the consent decree and a series of recommendations for meeting the remaining outcomes moving forward:
- Quality Assurance and Child Welfare Information System: The brief cites the importance of gauging user satisfaction with the statewide automated child welfare information system, SHINES, to identify functionality and system performance issues.
- Monitoring of Contract Agencies: The brief outlines how the current system of monitoring contract agencies, which is currently based on process measures, can be improved by switching to a system that relies instead on an agency’s ability to promote and achieve positive outcomes for children and families. It also strongly emphasizes the State’s need to determine the extent to which staffing and resources are sufficient to monitor the performance of contract agencies, including conducting safety reviews and ensuring children are placed in approved homes.
- Maximization of Federal Funding: The State can make better, more streamlined and effective use of federal funds by maximizing reimbursement options from the federal government — including developing and implementing a federally funded, subsidized guardianship program as an additional permanency option for children and youth in foster care. DFCS is currently using state funding for some guardianships.
About Children’s Rights: Every day, children are harmed in America’s broken child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. Through relentless strategic advocacy and legal action, we hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Children’s Rights, a national non-profit organization, has made a lasting impact for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children. For more information, please visit www.childrensrights.org.
About Bondurant Mixson & Elmore LLP: Bondurant Mixson & Elmore LLP is a powerhouse litigation firm in Atlanta, GA which routinely has been involved in cases of national significance for over 40 years. The firm can be found online at www.bmelaw.com.