DFCS to accept blame in children's deaths

UPDATED 1:40 p.m. with legislative reaction

Georgia's Division of Family and Children Services quickly closed five abuse cases in seven months involving Eric Forbes. A year later, the 12-year-old was beaten to death. DFCS acknowledged errors – by two supervisors. The agency fired them.

DFCS decided not to investigate the fifth report in nine years that alleged abuse or neglect by the family of Emani Moss. When Emani, 10, was beaten to death, DFCS attributed oversights to six workers. It fired two of them and punished the other four.

"Failure to follow policy" by a DFCS caseworker and her supervisor led to the death of a 2-year-old foster child, Laila Marie Daniel, the agency said. Both employees lost their jobs.

Credit: Alan Judd

Credit: Alan Judd

Credit: Alan Judd

Credit: Alan Judd

Blame the individuals, not the system. That is how DFCS has reacted for years to obviously botched cases that ended with a child’s death – especially cases that attracted massive news coverage.

Now, however, the agency is acknowledging that systemic failures have contributed to the deaths of children under its supervision. In a new report, DFCS cited "significant gaps" in its performance and said it needs to learn from the deaths it fails to prevent.

This acknowledgement represents the latest shift in how DFCS does business since Bobby Cagle became the agency's director in 2014. He is implementing a new "practice model" that is intended to help caseworkers use better judgment in deciding whether to leave a child in a home where maltreatment has been alleged or to place the child in foster care. Cagle also will not allow workers to assess cases exclusively over the telephone.

Still, Cagle remains under pressure to improve DFCS.

“Everybody wants it done and done now,” he said last week in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

State Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), chair of the House Human Resources  Appropriations Subcommittee, issued a statement today saying the AJC "highlights the continued focus we must maintain on caring for Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens. The death of any child is a tragedy beyond measure. However, a death that in hindsight may have been preventable is even more heartbreaking."

She added: "This report only confirms our need to devote appropriate funding to support our DFCS system. We will work with our colleagues in the Senate to restore the cuts they made to the FY 16 Amended Budget for DFCS."

more here about DFCS’ acceptance of blame in children’s death cases.