Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Georgia Child Welfare Reforms Endangered by New Litigation

/PRNewswire/ -- Legal action by a group that calls itself "Children's Rights" (CR) threatens child welfare reforms that have made Georgia's children safer, a national child advocacy group said Tuesday.

CR issued an inflammatory press release alleging that Georgia "may" be endangering thousands of children by keeping them out of foster care. "They rely largely on horror story cases from the state's Office of Child Advocate (OCA)," said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. "But when you try to make policy based on horror stories the results for children are horrible.

"In fact, since Georgia instituted its 'diversion' program, child safety has significantly improved. That's clear from the reduction in re-abuse of children known to the child welfare agency - a reduction seen both in formally-opened cases and in cases where families are helped through a process known in Georgia as 'diversion.'

"In contrast, independent court-appointed monitors overseeing a consent decree negotiated by CR concerning foster care in Atlanta found that there is a huge problem of abuse in foster care itself. Just two months ago, CR's own Associate Director, Ira Lustbader declared that 'We are extremely concerned that children in the Atlanta foster care system are simply not safe. ...' Yet now, CR is back in court, initiating a process apparently designed to shovel more children into this unsafe system."

At the moment, Wexler said, CR is seeking only further information - information even the court monitors refuse to help them get. "As a matter of principle, we believe almost every record maintained by a child welfare agency should be public. So we believe that even though CR may misuse the information, they should get it."

In addition, Wexler said, though diversion has made Georgia's children safer, OCA found real problems in the process, including a lack of statewide standards.

"Georgia has contracted with an outside expert to design a statewide system based on best practice in other states. OCA should monitor the process and make sure it's implemented. That's a far better approach than the one taken by CR, which seems intent on scaring Georgians away from a safe, proven alternative to needless foster care," Wexler said.

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