ATLANTA - The Division of Family and Children Services could see an 18 percent increase in its budget, provided the General Assembly approves the proposed figure, which would help the troubled program reduce staff turnover and reduce caseloads.
The Board of Human Resources unanimously approved a proposed $2.6 billion budget Wednesday that would include a $4.7 million Child Protective Services request.
"The Department of Human Resources is working to try to change the way children are protected in this state," said Audrey Horne, the department's commissioner. "Our proposal for fiscal year 2002 is the beginning of a multiyear plan to revamp our system."
Earlier this year, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation reviewed the case files of 13 children, including two Glynn County boys, who died while in the care of Department of Family and Children Services. The investigation revealed administrative problems contributed to 10 of the deaths.
The budget proposal includes $2.9 million for a regional training system. Ms. Horne told the board Wednesday that turnover in the Child Protective Services division was 39 percent last year, more than double for the rate for the rest of the department.
"This means the staff is inexperienced," she said.
The department also committed itself to a 5 percent pay raise for the next two years, carrying a price tag of $13 million. Officials said without financial incentive, it would be difficult to keep well-trained employees.
Under the proposal, $3.9 million would be dedicated to creating and staffing a 24-hour child abuse hot line, which several states, including Texas, currently operate to help monitor child abuse.
Reducing caseloads for Child Protective Service workers was also marked a priority for the department. Wednesday's proposal included $7.9 million for hiring 196 new staffers each year for three years. Currently, the 47,000 Child Protective Services caseworkers handle 19 cases a piece, while the Child Welfare League of America recommends each investigator handle only 14 cases. The added staff would help the division be in line with the league's goal by 2004.
Those funds would also reduce the number of cases handled by placement workers, who currently work with 24 cases each. The division hopes to reduce that number to 15 by 2004.
"By putting so much money into things for children ... eventually we might get a handle on the problem," said board member Lasa Joiner.
The budget also includes new prevention and awareness projects for children and low income families, and additional staff for programs for the mentally impaired and the elderly.
Reach Shannon Womble at (404) 589-8424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.