The Augusta DFCS office has capitulated to the efforts of a local child task force, agreeing to allow a small army of volunteers to help ensure no child falls through the child protective services system.
On Friday, local task force members followed up on meetings earlier this week with Department of Family and Children Services supervisors, and set in motion the task force's insistent offer to help DFCS caseworkers oversee abused and neglected children in state custody.
Task force members, who met with state officials who promised a list of every Augusta child in state custody, discovered the DFCS list left off a number of neglected and abused children said to be in state custody.
The DFCS list contained the names of approximately 300 children, said Richmond County Associate Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan. "There are enough (names missing) that I am not happy with it. And nobody here is happy with it," he said. But, he added, "We're missing paperwork, not children."
Julia Bloodworth, executive director of the Augusta Child Advocates, said the DFCS list failed to include 53 children her volunteers know about.
The local DFCS office has agreed to accept the local task force's assistance, which will in effect more than double its ranks of caseworkers who oversee children in state custody - 110 volunteers who have passed the state-required training program.
Judge Flanagan said the plan calls for assigning volunteers to work with each DFCS caseworker, currently laboring under caseloads nearly double the state-recommended average.
Immediately the volunteers will make personal contact with each child in state custody to ensure their location and physical status are known and recorded, Judge Flanagan said.
The volunteers will help DFCS caseworkers bring the paperwork and file on each child up to date to ensure care plans, judges' orders and court dates are current, Judge Flanagan said.
He explained a case plan is set into motion whenever the DFCS takes a child into state custody and a judge allows a parent to regain custody under the conditions of a care plan.
The paperwork is crucial, task force members explained Friday, because that is how a child is tracked through the protective services system. Critical information can be overlooked or lost when not properly recorded, especially with the local DFCS high turnover rate for caseworkers.
"I know they (caseworkers) are frustrated, too," Judge Flanagan said.
The task force has also convinced the local judges to set up offices for all child-related volunteer and DFCS agencies at the Law Enforcement Center this month. It's hoped that will facilitate better communication between those groups, Judge Flanagan said. A computer system is also being set up to keep track of all the children, he said.
Another thing task force members want to work on is getting physical help for DFCS caseworkers, Judge Flanagan said. For one thing, cellular telephones are needed for caseworkers who go into some dangerous areas alone at all times of the day and night, sometimes confronting emotional and hostile family situations, he said.
Task force members intend to meet with foster parents next month to hear their concerns and thoughts about Augusta's child protective services.
In March, Richmond County Superior Court Judge Duncan Wheale drafted Judge Flanagan and several child advocate volunteers to form a local task force to devise a system to ensure no Augusta child is failed by the state's child protective services.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226.
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