ATLANTA, Ga. -- Just 10 days on the job, interim Division of Family and Children Services director Bobby Cagle is already making sweeping changes to how the department is run.
11Alive's Kaitlyn Ross sat down with him for a question and answer session about his plans.
The department has 3,000 investigations they need to follow up on, so the new director is instituting mandatory overtime until that backlog is cleared, but is that putting too much on already overworked caseworkers?
"We know that caseworkers can only tolerate this for so long," said Cagle.
Q - 11Alive's Kaitlyn Ross; A - DFCS interim director Bobby Cagle
Q: Are you concerned that case workers who are already loaded down with over 100 cases are going to get sloppy or miss details when they are now forced to work overtime?
A: You know, that's always a concern with caseworkers, you have to monitor their caseloads, you have to provide the support they need. This would not work as a long term strategy.
Q: The direction was to really make a change at this agency, where do you think DFCS went wrong?
A: I think it's a bigger question than where did DFCS go wrong. I will also tell you that we have thousands of employees that work on these cases every day. And the cases that come to light are a very small fraction, they are serious, and my heart breaks anytime I hear a child is harmed.
Or killed. 5-year-old Heaven Woods was allegedly murdered by own her own mother and her boyfriend on May 20. She had an extensive case file history, and when she died, bruises covered her tiny body.
Q: If you looked at her case file, it was stacks upon stacks of paper, reports that she had been kicked in the back in public, what happened there?
A: I can tell you that I have had concerns with the casework practice there. That's not to say that the casework practice contributed to that child's death in that specific instance. I have concerns more with concerns more with the practice several years ago, more than in that instance. So I'm looking at that entire file. I think that there are things I would have done differently.
Q: Well, let's get specific on that, you say you had a problem with the casework management. What does that mean? What were the problems, what needs to change?
A: Part of the casework process needs to be that you have a worker, who many times is very young, they need good supervision. so there needs to be a constant dialogue with the worker and their supervisor about what's going on in the case.
DFCS is currently fighting lawsuits from families of children who have died with case files open or ignored.
Q: How do you defend yourself against lawsuits that come up, children who have died in DFCS care?
A: That's something certainly that I have to deal with as the leader of this agency. Is that something that's my priority right now? Absolutely not. We will deal with those in due time. My primary concern in the safety of children. And until we get that resolved, I will not move on.
It's also a personal mission for Cagle, who was adopted from foster care in North Carolina at an early age.
"I don't think you can ever understand what a caseworker goes through when they have to walk on to a family's porch and knock on the door and say, I'm here to investigate you for child maltreatment. That is a dynamic that I have experienced that I have never experienced anything like it," he said.
Q: Are you overwhelmed with the enormity of this job?
A: This is an incredibly difficult job. I was adopted from the childcare system from an early age in North Carolina. I was raised to do this, my experience was to do this, and my education was all designed to help me understand this job.
Q: If you had to pin down one issue that you need to fix in DFCS, what would it be?
A: I've landed on this overdue investigations issue, this is of paramount importance to me right now. I think there are other things we need to attend to.
Q: When a child dies with a DFCS case file open, who is ultimately responsible?
A: For the work that's done by DFCS, absolutely I am accountable for that. Regardless if it occurred in 2009 or it happens today, I accept full responsibility for that.
Q: Are children really safer now than they were six months ago, is this enough?
A: "I think when we resolve the caseworker issue with the overdue investigations, that makes children safer. Can I say on day 10 than they were on day one, I can't really say that.
But in the coming days and weeks, he says he'll let his history drive the future of the department.
"If I had stayed in the child welfare system, I wouldn't be sitting here today. So I am grateful for that, it steels my commitment to this job," he said.