ATLANTA — Faced with a court order to improve conditions for foster children in two metro Atlanta counties, Georgia officials have taken money and manpower from foster kids’ services in the rest of the state, an analysis of state data by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows.
The result is a system that gives children in Fulton and DeKalb counties more benefits and attention than children in the other 157 counties, the newspaper reports.
Department of Human Services Commissioner Clyde Reese, the state’s top social services official, acknowledged some inequity.
“I think the short answer to that – when you look at a finite number of dollars and people – is yes,” he said when asked whether the Division of Family and Children Services had pulled resources from elsewhere in Georgia.
The agency has little choice in light of the 2005 court decision, he said. The court has demanded strict caseload limits and other protections for foster children in Fulton and DeKalb counties.
Reese said he wants to improve child welfare in all of Georgia’s counties, not just two.
The newspaper’s analysis shows that money for Fulton and DeKalb counties has remained stable, while funding for the other counties took substantial hits.
The region that includes Cobb and Cherokee counties saw its budget shrink by 36 percent. In the region that includes Forsyth and Hall counties, the shrinkage was 24 percent.
In Fulton and DeKalb counties, the average monthly caseload per worker is 8.53, the lowest in Georgia and well below the statewide average of 13.33, according to statistics from February.
People who advocated for the court order say it was not meant to improve conditions for some foster children at the expense of others.
“If the state is exposing children in the rest of the state to the same harm that children were facing in Atlanta when we filed our lawsuit, then they have got a real problem,” said Ira Lustbader, the associate director of Children’s Rights. That New York-based nonprofit filed the class action lawsuit in 2002.