ATLANTA — More Georgia children are getting state protection under new policies, but child welfare advocates say the agency responsible for helping them is being strained by budget cuts.
The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services lost 28 percent of its state funding for child welfare services over five years and is bracing for the loss of millions in federal dollars, authorities said.
The loss of funding comes at a time when the agency is striving to ramp up services and adding new cases to the workloads of its employees, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
State figures show that from February 2011 to February 2012, the agency added nearly 725 children to its foster care population, a 10 percent increase.
Investigations into child abuse and neglect have more than doubled in that time, to an average on any given day of 3,432.
That has resulted in a heavier workload for caseworkers, and advocates for children say services such transportation, drug testing and counseling for parents and children have been rationed or eliminated.
“It’s clear that the system is strained to its limits, and children’s needs are not being met,” said Normer Adams, the executive director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children.
The crushing caseloads, combined with budget constraints, especially spells trouble for children in the high-growth areas around Atlanta, several advocates for children said.
Despite the challenges, the agency is still doing a solid job, said Clyde Reese, the commissioner of the state Department of Human Resources, which oversees DFCS.
“I don’t think the system is any closer to being broken than it has been. I don’t feel that it is strained to the point of no return,” he said, adding that he believes the numbers are leveling off.
In Bartow County northwest of Atlanta, workers have more than 20 cases, said Juvenile Court Judge Velma Tilley. In response, some quit and are not replaced, leaving an even greater workload for their beleaguered colleagues.
In some instances, important information falls through the cracks. The judge recalled a case in which a new caseworker suggested placing an at-risk child with a grandmother, unaware that the woman had a history of punishing children by leaving them in a graveyard at night.