Originally created 07/29/01

Blasting of DFCS persists



Four months after a judge's ire gave voice to a community's frustration with child protective services, at least three residents trying to help children still feel ensnared in bureaucracy.

Sandra Epps Daniels, who was granted physical custody of her infant nephew after he was allegedly fed crack cocaine, was close to tears last week.

Devon Epps needed a crib and highchair and vouchers for baby food and diapers. Ms. Daniels told this to his Department of Family and Children Services caseworker July 2. It wasn't until after media reports and the scheduling of a court hearing for Devon that a crib arrived Thursday night.

"I'm not used to begging," Ms. Daniels said. "I don't care about (the DFCS caseworker) not supporting me, but Devon is just an innocent child."

Carolyn Beard, the director of the Augusta DFCS office, said if Ms. Daniels or anyone else needing the agency's services has a problem receiving help from a caseworker, the supervisor should be contacted. If the problem still is not solved, she should be called, Ms. Beard said.

Stanley Berrian did that after a four-month tangle with caseworkers and supervisors left him feeling that 20 years in the military was bureaucratic kindergarten compared with dealing with DFCS.

"They're digging holes and covering them up until we get so frustrated we just give up," Mr. Berrian said. "Everybody can walk away from this except for these three kids."

Mr. Berrian said he and other family members have been worried and trying to help his niece and her three children for years. It came to a head in March when one of the children called him about 9 p.m. one day. The three were alone and hungry, Mr. Berrian said. He called the police and met them at the house, which he described as filthy, and the deputy called DFCS.

"The caseworker refused to come out," Mr. Berrian said. "I know how Judge Wheale feels now."

In March, Superior Court Judge Duncan Wheale demanded a public accounting in three DFCS-related cases. His request was met with a wall of silence from DFCS professionals. Undeterred, Judge Wheale gathered volunteers to form a task force to find a way to ensure no Augusta child in state custody is failed again.

Judy Shipes, a member of that task force and a Augusta Child Advocates worker, said she wrote to Ms. Beard on Mr. Berrian's behalf June 19. Neither has heard a word since, Ms. Shipes said. "You can be right and have the power of the courts, and it makes no difference."

On Friday, Mr. Berrian went to Juvenile Court for a hearing in the case. He left six hours later expressing disgust.

"Chaos," he said.

The DFCS caseworker told the judge that the agency had dropped the protective order for his two great-nephews and great-niece - ages 9, 11 and 8 - so there was no need for a hearing. The caseworker also told the judge they didn't know where the children were, possibly in Columbia, Mr. Berrian said.

He was told the hearing was reset for Tuesday.

On Friday, Richmond County Juvenile Court Associate Judge Doug Flanagan removed DFCS from Ms. Daniels' life by giving her full custody of Devon. But Friday afternoon, she learned of what seemed to be one last parting shot: The baby's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families card had only $36 on it, she said.

"It's so depressing," Ms. Daniels said.

Joyce Peters expresses a similar depression and frustration about her situation. She has a judge's order that says the state is to pay for her adopted daughter's specialized mental health treatment, available only in Athens, Ga. But DFCS is refusing to pay, Ms. Peters said.

"My child has fallen through all of the cracks," Ms. Peters said.

It's been weeks now and her little girl, so traumatized by abuse and neglect from before the adoption that she suffers from what is called attachment disorder, is without help, Ms. Peters said.

She has contacted a lawyer.

Ms. Beard said she cannot speak about individual cases because of confidentiality laws, but she confirmed she did speak with Mr. Berrian. Ms. Daniels, she said, should have called her about Devon's need for a crib and highchair.

About 7 p.m. Thursday, Devon's caseworker showed up at Ms. Daniels' home with a crib. Ms. Daniels said the woman was curt with her and walked past the baby without a word or glance.

On Friday morning, about two hours before the court hearing before Judge Flanagan, Ms. Daniels said the caseworker returned to give her a temporary Medicaid card for Devon - a month after Ms. Daniels was given physical custody of the child.

Now she can take him to a doctor.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.