Children's shelter shuts down

A child advocacy center in Augusta is closing its emergency shelter for abused children because the state will not refer enough children there to keep it open.

But the center is "hopefully optimistic" the state of Georgia still will find safe placements for the children elsewhere, the center's director said.

The board of Child Enrichment Inc. voted Friday to no longer take children into its emergency shelter and to find placements for the 11 children currently there. The 11 full-time staff members also will be let go after the children leave, board President W. Cameron Nixon said.

"There's been a shift in the way the state is treating abandoned, abused and neglected children, and they're no longer being placed in shelters," he said.

The move comes after months of efforts by the center and its board to convince the state of the shelter's worth and to get a clear sense of why it was no longer being used. The state instead will rely on foster homes, placing children with relatives, and diversion, which could mean giving parents more resources rather than taking a neglected child, Child Enrichment Executive Director Dan Hillman said.

"As providers for children alleged to have been abused or neglected, we know that removing them from the home is traumatic for them," he said. "There is common sense to what the state is saying. So we're not going to be critical of it. We're hopefully optimistic."

But the decision was difficult for those involved in the shelter, which has been taking in children since 1978.

"Part of me thinks, well, we've lost a great service for those abused and abandoned kids that need specialized care, 24-hour care," Mr. Hillman said. "But I don't know. If the state is right, shelters aren't needed as they once were."

However, it would be difficult for a foster home or relative to provide the immediate access to the range of services the shelter provides, Mr. Hillman conceded.

A call Friday to the Georgia Department of Human Resources seeking comment was not returned.

Of the 11 children at the center, at least six, and perhaps all, of them will be placed with relatives, Mr. Hillman said. The center still will operate the Court Appointed Special Advocates and Child Advocacy Center programs, which actually make up 97 percent of the services it provides children, Mr. Nixon said.

"The shelter had become a relatively small part of our operation because of the state changes," he said.

The shelter had received only 10 children through the first six months of the fiscal year compared to 49 the year before, Mr. Hillman said. Still, the center had kept the shelter staffed, at a loss of about $44,000 so far this year, as it tried to work out an arrangement with the state, Mr. Nixon said.

"It became financially untenable to keep the shelter open with the number of children that were coming through," he said. "It's an emotional issue. The shelter has been part of this community for 30 years. So we certainly didn't go into this (decision) lightly at all."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.