ATLANTA — Two child protection workers in western Georgia were arrested Wednesday and accused of tampering with child abuse reports so their agency could keep millions of dollars in federal funding, authorities said.
Investigators said Phyllis Mitchell and Deborah Cobb were charged with making false statements and encouraging others to lie so the Muscogee County branch of the Division of Family and Children Services in Columbus would not lose millions of dollars in grants. Federal officials had held back that funding and put the office on an improvement plan because it did not meet federal rules.
It was unclear whether the alleged document tampering – which investigators said included destroying reports – had prevented authorities from protecting children from abuse.
Mitchell works as the intake supervisor at the DFCS county office. Cobb served as the office’s acting supervisor and is now the director of social services, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
DHS Commissioner Clyde Reese III said in a statement that the safety of children was a “fundamental guiding principle.”
“No DHS employee has any reason or incentive to hide allegations of abuse or neglect in order to lower the number of children and families to be entered into the state system,” Reese said. “DHS will cooperate fully with all federal and state authorities in their investigation.”
Local District Attorney Julia Slater requested assistance from the GBI in mid-August after learning of a federal probe. It was alleged that DFCS supervisors had destroyed, delayed or falsified child abuse reports so it would appear they were in compliance with state guidelines.
At one point, the federal government withheld millions in grant money from the Muscogee County office because it failed to meet federal requirements. After finishing a plan supposed to improve its performance, the local child protection office got its grant money back, the GBI said.
Law enforcement officials would not comment on when the agency lost its funding or how much money was involved. So far, the investigation is limited to the dealings of the Mucogee County branch.
“We’re looking at Muscogee County,” said Kelly McCoy, an assistant special agent-in-charge of the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “I don’t know if it’s systemic. I don’t have any indication that it is at this point.”
Gov. Nathan Deal said through his spokesman, Brian Robinson, that child safety was of “paramount importance” to the administration.