Originally created 02/10/00

Children's services scrutinized



More than a decade ago, Julia Rankin Bloodworth watched a series of newspaper articles on child deaths spark an outcry, a task force and reform in child protective services.

Now, with the deaths of more children in the spotlight after a series of Atlanta newspaper articles on children who died during five years while in state care, Ms. Bloodworth wants to make the subsequent outcry, task force and reforms more effective this time around.

That's why the executive director of Augusta Child Advocates Inc., one member of an independent task force to develop recommendations on improving child protective services, is looking for ideas wherever she can find them.

"I think my main concern is trying to have a lot of input from those in the trenches -- the people who actually have to work with the children," she said at one of three community forums held Wednesday at Augusta Technical Institute by the Georgia Child Protective Services Task Force.

"If they haven't been there, I don't care how many degrees they have, they don't have the same grasp of the issues," Ms. Bloodworth said.

The task force, charged with offering policy and program recommendations to improve protection for children, is supposed to present its findings to Gov. Roy Barnes by April 20. Three forums for community input were held in Augusta -- one targeting business and civic leaders, one geared toward representatives of child and family services organizations and one set up to take comments from the general public.

"Getting community input is critical and important in all of our endeavors," said Linda Johnson, director of the Department of Family and Children Services in Richmond County. "The bureaucracy cannot, in and of itself, protect children. We have a mandate and a duty to do what we can, but the faith community, the business community, the civic community, the professional community, the community in general -- they all have a clear role in ensuring the safety of our children."

The task force plans to hold 10 community forums and already has visited Albany and Waycross.

Emerging concerns from the forums include worries about inconsistency in services and policies from county to county and about the concentration of power in protective services, particularly regulatory power, said Jeff Lawrence, a task force member who attended Wednesday's sessions. He is vice president of programs for the Methodist Home for Children in Macon.

"There is no independent regulatory oversight of public facilities that care for children," he said. "There's no system of regulation of the kind that's typical for private facilities. Anything could happen, something goes wrong, and the state would investigate itself."

Residents who want to make comments to the task force can reach Ms. Bloodworth at Augusta Child Advocates at 737-3006.

Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223.