Saturday, February 18, 2012

Child Deaths Up In Families Watched By Ga. Agency

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s child welfare agency has confirmed that child deaths are higher than normal among families who have been under its watch.

The Division of Family and Children Services said that 35 children died in the 10-week period since Dec. 1, all of them from families that have a history with the agency that investigates reports of child abuse and neglect. That’s more than 1/3 the number of child deaths — 92 total — the agency saw in all of 2011 in families it had investigated or monitored.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported ( Saturday that officials cautioned that not all of the deaths were caused by abuse or neglect. Still, the child welfare agency’s deputy director, Kathy Herren, said that, “This is a mathematical number that is higher.”

Child advocates said they’re concerned the deaths may signal that the agency isn’t properly investigating homes where children could be in danger.

Georgia DFCS has been criticized for years for being short staffed and losing children’s records. The state settled a 2005 lawsuit that insisted on improving the state-run foster care systems in Fulton and DeKalb counties.

Atlanta attorney Don Keenan, a critic of Georgia’s child welfare system, called the recent deaths reported between Dec. 1 and Feb. 12 “an outrageous figure.”

“That’s a school bus full of kids,” Keenan said.

The Atlanta newspaper and WSB-TV jointly pushed state officials to release the death statistics. Each of the children who had died came from families that had been investigated or monitored by DFCS in the past five years, though the children may not have had open cases at the time of their deaths.

Officials said four of the deaths were attributed to abuse, while 10 were caused by medical problems. Six children died after a parent rolled on top of them while they slept in the same bed. Others were reported to have been killed in bathtub accidents, car wrecks, a house fire and an accidental shooting. Some deaths were listed as having unknown causes with no evidence of abuse.

The agency said three of its workers were fired over the handling of one case involving the Feb. 6 death of a 4-year-old Fulton County boy. DFCS section director Peggy Woodard said the boy apparently died from abuse and had an open case with the agency, but no caseworker had visited the family in about two months. Visits are supposed to happen monthly.

Officials said none of the other child deaths resulted in disciplinary actions.


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