The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By Alan Judd
Epic failures by Georgia’s child welfare system have given the state one of the nation’s highest rates of death by abuse and neglect, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows.
Dozens of Georgia children die from maltreatment each year despite intervention by the state’s child protection agency. In 2012 alone, the Journal-Constitution found, workers from the Division of Family and Children’s Services, or DFCS, did not detect or did not act on signs that clearly foretold the deaths of at least 25 children.
But DFCS is only one element of a fundamental breakdown in how Georgia protects its children.
Few states present more dangers for children than Georgia. It is among the leaders in firearms deaths, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and several potentially fatal diseases, in addition to maltreatment deaths.
These dangers are exacerbated, the Journal-Constitution found, by investigations of children’s deaths that can be alarmingly inadequate.
The Journal-Constitution examined 2,230 deaths of children reported statewide between January 2011 and July 2013. Among them, 135 were homicides and 71 were suicides. Authorities said 462 children died by accident. But the newspaper’s review suggests as many as one in four accidental deaths actually were caused at least in part by adults’ negligent or reckless conduct.
Dozens of children were unintentionally suffocated while sleeping with parents. Ten deaths occurred in fires after parents left children home alone. Eleven resulted from what was termed accidental drug or alcohol ingestion – a finding that often seems incongruous to the ages of the victims, one of whom was just 33 days old.
Sharon Hill, the state DFCS director, said the agency’s caseworkers and supervisors have improved their practices in dealing with sometimes-difficult families during difficult times. In the past two years, she said, DFCS has “certainly a deeper focus” on preventing deaths.