Georgia puts cheap pricetag on the lives of its children

emani1I’ve covered Georgia politics and government for a long time now, and over a quarter of a century you see a lot of things change. You see politicians come and go, you see ambitions realized and dashed, you see yesterday’s obsessions and certainties abandoned in favor of new obsessions and certainties.

But you know what hasn’t changed? Georgia children supposedly under the watchful protection of the state continue to die from neglect and abuse in unacceptably high numbers, and we continue to pretend that this time, we’re going to fix it.

We don’t.

When I arrived here back in 1990, Georgians were scandalized by the number of children identified to the state as potential victims of abuse and neglect who were turning up dead. Naturally, promises were made to fix it. Yet that same scandal has popped up as a recurring major scandal every four or five years since then, and remains a scandal today, some 26 years later. Why is that?

It’s not as if we don’t change things. When we discover that children under the supposed protection of the Division of Family and Children Services have been starved to death, beaten to death or subjected to terrible sexual abuse, sometimes we’ve responded to it as a failure of leadership or frontline workers, so we’ve made constant personnel changes.

At other times, we’ve blamed it on training failures or organizational flaws or outdated policy. So we’ve revised the training, revamped the organization and updated policy, and a few years later we once again realize that too many children are still dying in numbers and situations that are heartbreaking.

So if we make all those changes and the problems still persist, doesn’t logic tell you to look at something even more basic than personnel or training or policies, something inherent in the system over time?

For example, maybe it’s because we’re too cheap to hire enough caseworkers. As AJC reporter Alan Judd pointed out earlier this month, DFCS has 20 percent fewer caseworkers than it did a decade ago, even though the number of abuse and neglect cases is soaring. The number of Georgia children living in poverty has also jumped, from 489,000 in 2006 to 647,000 in 2014.

As a result, caseworkers have far more cases than they can conscientiously handle. Back in the 2000 iteration of this scandal, state officials promised to bring caseloads down to the recommended national norm, yet 16 years later, the caseload level in Georgia will remain well above recommended levels even if legislators approve the hiring of an additional 148 caseworkers statewide.

We also expect those caseworkers to perform as professionals even though we don’t pay them that way. The state is now advertising for DFCS social service case managers, requiring both a bachelor’s degree and relevant experience. In Fulton County, the pay scale is from $28,000 to $34,000. Not surprisingly, that creates major turnover problems in a field in which continuity is critical.

Back in 2000, state officials acknowledged that children were dying because high caseloads and low pay were causing an unacceptably high turnover rate of 39 percent. Today, 16 years later, it is 36 percent.

In short, we have a pretty good idea by now where the problems lie. But then again, we always have.

Reader Comments 0

890 comments
Debbie Lee
Debbie Lee

The state of GA needs to get on-board with reality & the rest of the world in the 21st century. I am really beginning to question why I live in a state so full of bigotry, and hate? The children are our future, we should be doing all that we can do to uplift, and care for them.

Raquel Johnson
Raquel Johnson

yes, they insult a potential employee with a Masters Degree in Social Work but offering them a 27,000 a year salary!

Holly Michelle Rafford
Holly Michelle Rafford

I'm not a homophobe. You gays do the deserve the same rights as people who are straight.

Jay Smallwood
Jay Smallwood

Its the Destroyers of Family and Children Services...

Yasmine Moss
Yasmine Moss

At the rate that Ga. pays, you can only afford the skittles and water is a luxury.

Mia Mccamey
Mia Mccamey

Georgia needs to start training People on the System or anyone looking for a job to be a Social Worker like back in the Day

Allison Fox
Allison Fox

It's not just child welfare. It's all the social welfare professions. You are lucky to get a paid position.

Allison Fox
Allison Fox

You can sit down now random internet homophobe.

Suzanne O'Toole Capannelli
Suzanne O'Toole Capannelli

Georgia is a pretty screwed up state! The only reason I moved here is to be near my granddaughters. Say what you like - it is messed up!

Pammie Sue
Pammie Sue

Hell, man... Anything that important to our society ought to pay enough to keep you in beer n' skittles.

Neva Them
Neva Them

Right, bitter Mothers,bby fathers that don't want to pay child support, and don't want to go on with their lives,etc.

Obie Booker
Obie Booker

More money for mass incarceration! Priorities people, priorities!

Les Bouska
Les Bouska

That was all done with private funds.

Michael Burke
Michael Burke

Caseworkers don't protect. They formalize and institutionalize abuse.

Michael Miller
Michael Miller

Human services pays crap. You do it because you care.

Lamecia Eaddy
Lamecia Eaddy

I realized this as a young Social Worker in 1997. Moved back to NC and paid almost 20k more than GA-pay gap still the same. Even with federal oversight, kids are still dying in care, caseworkers are overworked, etc. I miss Child Welfare but will never work in GA until the state makes keeping kids safe and competitive pay for degreed Social Workers a priority.

Holly Michelle Rafford
Holly Michelle Rafford

That's right. Our government would rather use our tax dollars to paint the crosswalks for Pride.

Beth A Hickey
Beth A Hickey

At least talk to the caseworkers. I took a 12,000 pay it to investigate abuse in Georgia. I never got a raise in 5 years. Georgia doesn't care about kids and it doesn't value those who do. Period.

Karen Sanders
Karen Sanders

That's true. They'd rather spend millions building a new highway to the Cobb County Braves Stadium.

Pammie Sue
Pammie Sue

Such a sad, sad thing. And then you have people making malicious reports because they are scorned exes, pissed off relatives, etc. It ought to be a prosecutable offense to file a false report and use that time to investigate someone when there are children truly being beaten, starved, abused, and neglected.

Wendy Stewart
Wendy Stewart

I have fostered and ADOPTED children from the state of GA!

Wendy Stewart
Wendy Stewart

Not only is the funding off for case workers, but the monetary compensation and support to foster parents is pitiful. These children after years of abuse, poverty, and neglect are not easy to adjust/provide for and educate. The foster families are left scrounging and searching for mental health providers that are willing to take Medicaid or America group...in the hours in which the foster family can transport after work. Most foster parents must work during the day. The system is in desperate need of an overhaul to save or children of GA.

John Williams
John Williams

Ranting and raving on Facebook doesn't solve the problem, action solves the problem.

BLC138
BLC138

Dear Mr. Bookman,


This article is not only timely but only furthers my belief that the system is broken.


My husband and I have been fighting for custody for my stepson, since December 2014 after months of smelling marijuana in his mother's apartment and her telling us she never had any money to do the things she needed to do for our son despite the fact that she gets $575 a month in child support and my husband pays health insurance, all copays and half of most of our son's misc. expenses (school photos, soccer, etc).


It came to a head when our son started failing his classes and told the school counselor that he was afraid to go home, there was no food in the home and his mother slept all the time. Us knowing that his mother's past boyfriend abused our son (we couldn't prove it and the mother vehemently denied it) we decided to investigate her current boyfriend who shares the home. Her boyfriend was on Channel 2 action news on October 2013 for a high speed chase that resulted in his arrest for a DUI, drug possession and evading police. The boyfriend moved in with the mother and our son, three months prior to his arrest. 
So obviously we flipped out and confronted the mother, and as usual she lied about all of it.


Wednesday was D-Day.


We had a positive 10 panel hair follicle drug test (done the first week of January) showing the mother had .65mg of marijuana in her system (which equates to 3-6 joints a day for 90 days) - no wonder she never has any money. 


We had the drug lab tech (who has 15yrs of experience) debunk her defense's claims that it was secondhand smoke. We had the video of her boyfriend's car chase and the cop who arrested him there to testify. The mother also admitted on the stand that she had a "cocaine problem" for several years. 


We had our son's therapist confirm that he was abused. 
We also had accounts from our son that his mother confirmed about how crazy/dangerous her family is, an example is that her younger sister pulled a knife on their younger brother during a family event and threaten to kill him. Also, her younger brother recently decapitated a squirrel in front of our son.


We had witnesses attest to our parenting and my younger son's success in school and life in general as a testimony of our parenting. Pictures showing our family together and the things we do for our children. 


We don't do drugs, we have a stable home environment and we have stable, 9-5 jobs. (The mother works part time as a waitress and her boyfriend does odd jobs whenever he can).


Yet the judge told us that while our concerns were "valid" she did not believe our son was in danger. Custody stays the same. No future orders for drug testing - nothing. The judge basically said to the mother - "don't do drugs and you need to co-parent better".


On Wednesday we learned why you hear stories on the news about the state failing a child and something terrible happening to that child.


In Georgia, you can be a drug addict, have other drug addicts and dangerous people who abuse your child around, and you get a slap on the hand by the system.

Priscilla Schell
Priscilla Schell

@BLC138 Children have the right to say where they want to live.Was a "guardian ad litem" appointed to represent the child's wishes and best interests?

Stephanie Moore
Stephanie Moore

There's a reason for the system. I'm a student, I don't have the means to start raising a child now, but I can contribute. That's why humans build systems, so we can collectively solve these problems.

Jonathan Rottenseed
Jonathan Rottenseed

but, i thought the government was our mentors on life! what is happening?

Ann Young
Ann Young

Governor Deal why don't you take over the leadership of this agency NOW. ACTION IS NEEDED NOW!

Ida Fomond
Ida Fomond

I would to, but my health is to bad. That was my intention when I retired, but Cancer left me disabled. I love kids and it breaks my heart when they are abused.

Betty Caldwell
Betty Caldwell

We must keep praying for them, GOD does answer prayers.

John Williams
John Williams

How about if everyone that comments on this post demanding money, and demanding justice, just fostered one child? How much more would that do than complaining and blaming the system?

The professional staff who persevere in protecting children, vulnerable adults, and work to assure that help reaches the citizens for whom it is intended appreciate the very astute observations in your commentary on the value we place on the lives of our children. Assuring that human services staff have manageable workloads and a compensation system that is competitive promotes positive outcomes and benefits all Georgians.  Thank you!  

CommonSenseisntCommon
CommonSenseisntCommon

That is assuming that the Ga legislature don't muck it up any longer and commit to long term benefits for the caseworkers and through them their clients

ByteMe
ByteMe

The anger and outrage that Mr. McConnell’s position has touched off among African-Americans could have implications for the presidential election. Leading African-American Democrats are trying to use it to motivate rank-and-file blacks to vote in November, the first presidential election in a decade in which Mr. Obama will not be on the ballot and in which Democrats fear black participation could drop.

Will AA's really be motivated by Republican a$sholery?  Finally??

CommonSenseisntCommon
CommonSenseisntCommon

@ByteMe If Obama nominates a moderate AA and McConnell follows through with his threats then I would HOPE that would motivate EVERYONE to get to the polls and vote out the crackpots that are RUINING the Congress.

Kamchak
Kamchak

@ByteMe 

Don't know if this metric means anything, but I read in today's print edition that early voting is up 40% this year.

CommonSenseisntCommon
CommonSenseisntCommon

@Kamchak What's the weather like in the NC mountains? Here it was 11 this morning LOL, I can't flippin wait to get to La

Carmen Flynn
Carmen Flynn

@ByteMe  Why don't you open your eyes?  You think it's a Republican-Democrat problem?  It's a problem of people depending on the nanny state government!  Why are major cities all run by Democrats still in poverty if they can produce utopia for the poor?  Look at Detroit, Baltimore, Atlanta.
  The problem is families and communities putting it on the government and not taking control of their environment.  In the past, a community would have never allowed this.  The black community before Socialist government run services were the strongest communities in the country.  When Johnson started the so-called war on poverty, the black man was turned out of the family and it has been downhill ever since.  The black communities in the old days were strong low divorce rates and highly faithful.   When whites joined in the game it created massive social problems in this country.
  The problem is Government, Government is not the solution.  The solution is neighbors and churches and communities taking control and not allowing this crap to go on without consequences.

Ask your grandparents how it used to be before the so-called war on poverty.  The so-called war on poverty was actually a way for an old racist to enslave the blacks again by government and get the whites enslaved as well.  The government is the plantation and when you are owned by the plantation, you are not strong, you are weak and dependent!
  So everyone is equal eh?  Ask your grandparents and great grandparents how it used to be and formulate a plan to take your communities back.  Shake off the slavemaster government! Government ruins everything it touches!  It's not about Race, it's not about money, it's about the Government owning us We the People and stealing our rights to run our communities as we see fit.