ATLANTA, Ga. - A state audit reveals that a $101 million dollar computer system often lacks timely information concerning allegations of child abuse or neglect.
The audit of the system used by the Department of Family and Children Services was conducted at the request of the House Appropriations Committee, and states that "inaccurate dates in the system could affect child safety."
The system, known as SHINES, cost federal and state taxpayers $49.8 million to get off the ground, and now costs an average of $23.6 million to maintain.
"I'm not 100-percent sure that we've created the product that will make Georgia's children safer," said State Representative Mary Margaret Oliver."That is the important inquiry. What's the cost and are we getting what we paid for?"
In a statement, a DFCS spokesperson insists that through the SHINES system, the reporting and management of child welfare cases has improved.
The audit, however, revealed problems.
Auditors report that allegations of child abuse or neglect should be entered in the system "immediately." However, an examination of the system revealed that more often than not, that's not happening.
The audit report states than 77% of the time, allegations of child abuse or neglect were not entered into the SHINES system on the day they were reported, and that a third of the time caseworkers didn't enter the information into the system for five days or more.
The audit states that sometimes, information was entered into the system incorrectly. A 2011 case of abuse was entered in the system as occurring in 1949.
The Department of Family and Children Services declined an on camera interview.
In a written statement, spokesperson Ravae Graham said the department agreed that the effectiveness of SHINES is dependent on the timeliness and reliability of the information that is entered.
"If we get a call indicating a child is unsafe we would opt to make the home visit as soon as possible, even if it means the report would be entered later into SHINES after the home visit and the child's safety has been assessed," said Graham.
In a letter to auditors, the commissioner of DFCS listed ways the department is working to improve use of the system, including monthly reviews.
"The purpose of the reviews is to measure the consistency, accuracy, and integrity of data entered," writes Commissioner Clyde Reese.
Rep. Oliver said she plans to ask for a more in-depth look at how the system is being used during the upcoming legislative session.