Only 3 days left to fight for legislative changes to DFCS

ATLANTA -- There are five bills relating to child welfare, as well as the budget, that have yet to make it to the Governor's desk and only three more days for lawmakers to vote and get them there.

On Tuesday, House leaders hope to resurrect HB923, which never made it onto the Senate floor for a vote.

The bill would increase transparency within the division and change who and how child fatalities are investigated and studied. Senate Health committee chair Renee Untermann has voiced support for the measure, but in committee she refused to let it come up for a vote.

SIGN THE PETITION: Join the effort to hold DFCS accountable for protecting children

Child advocates believe the language of the bill will be attached to another, non-controversial measure, that has already passed out of the Senate, so it can win approval without ever being voted on independently in that chamber.

For five months we fought to get the case reports of the 213 children we know died with a DFCS history in the past two years. Children found with their skin eaten by bugs and rats, overloaded case workers overlooking please for help.

"If you can understand why and how children die, that's the first step to prevention," said Pat Willis the Executive Director of Voices for Georgia's Children.

Willis knows its hard to understand much, when the documents received by DFCS have so many words missing. Melissa Carter with the Barton Child Law & Policy Center says House bill 923 would change that.

"As we've experienced and as your stories have covered, the statutory provision, it wasn't drafted with that intention, allows for a practice of pretty aggressive redaction of records," said Carter.

11Alive found one fatality report, redacted differently. With just the few extra words we could read, we learned DFCS ignored doctors pleas and returned a severely asthmatic child back to parents they feared would neglect him. In the report, case workers also noted they had failed to follow up on his care once he returned home. The boy died of an asthma attack.

The failures that emerge from reading the reports stem beyond DFCS case workers. There are flaws with the judicial system, police communication, mandatory reporting and community support that in many cases could have made a difference between life or death.

"So it's that important and we really do need this bill," said Carter.

HB 923 wouldn't just lift the black ink, it could add more pages to the document, increasing the tools and oversight involved in investigating how children died.

Of the reports 11Alive fought to receive, 94 are still missing. That's 94 children that died and we have no idea why -- or whether the state even investigated to find out. Of the cases we did receive, the cause for nearly two dozen deaths are still listed as, unknown.

"Certainly we don't want to wait for the next child to die to decide we need to do this differently," said Willis.

Willis also believes the community would benefit by the new members the legislation would add to the fatality review process. For the first time a representative from DECAL, the agency that licenses and oversees child care facilities, as well as the Department of Education, would be involved in the review process.


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