Circuit bests state

Compared with the rest of the state, the three-county Augusta Judicial Circuit takes good care of its abused and neglected children for the most part, statistics presented Tuesday to judges and child welfare workers showed.

But the data revealed weaknesses, such as taking too long to get children adopted and the percentage of Richmond County children victimized again after Department of Family and Children Services intervention.

"Clearly Augusta (Judicial Circuit) is doing a lot of good things for their kids," said Beth Locker, deputy project director for the Georgia Supreme Court's Committee on Justice for Children. "Are they doing enough? Probably not."

Ms. Locker presented the figures at the Justice for Children Summit, attended by juvenile court judges, child welfare workers and law enforcement officers. Her numbers come from the nonprofit group Fostering Court Improvement, which compiles information reported by child welfare offices to the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

In most categories, the circuit including Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties does as well as or better than the state as a whole. In a measure indicating courts' and DFCS' judgement, of all children removed from homes between April 2007 and March 2008, only 4.6 percent, or 13 children, had been taken out of foster care within the past year, as opposed to an 8.5 percent statewide rate. Of those removed in the Augusta circuit, 8.5 percent, or 24 children, had been in foster care at any point previously, compared with 16.4 percent statewide.

But Ms. Locker said the circuit's timeliness in seeing children adopted needs improvement. In the 12 months ending March 31, Georgia's median length between a child's removal to adoption was 33.4 months. Richmond County's median was 38.4 months, and Columbia County's median was 85.5 months.

In 2005, the most recent year for which the data are available, the state's rate of child abuse victims re-victimized was 6.4 percent. Richmond County's rate was 8.2 percent.

"The data only tells you the numbers," said Richmond County DFCS Director Andre Chambers. "The data doesn't tell you what's happening behind that. Strategies have to be built on that.

"We have a lot more work we need to do," he said.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

REPORTS OF MALTREATMENT

Per 10,000 children, children's cases warranting investigation from January to December 2007:

BURKE: 25.8

RICHMOND: 18.1

COLUMBIA: 14.8

CIRCUIT: 17.5

STATEWIDE: 22.9

VICTIMS RE-VICTIMIZED

After reports of abuse, victims again mistreated within 12 months from January to December 2005

RICHMOND: 8.2 percent (108/1,319)

BURKE: 5.8 percent (8/138)

COLUMBIA: 4.9 percent (14/285)

CIRCUIT: 7.5 percent (130/1,742)

STATEWIDE: 6.4 percent

REMOVALS TO FOSTER CARE

Average monthly removals, per 10,000 children, from April 2007 to March 2008

RICHMOND: 3.5

COLUMBIA: 1.2

BURKE: 0.8

CIRCUIT: 2.5

STATEWIDE: 2.5

TOP FOUR REASONS FOR REMOVALS FROM APRIL 2007 TO MARCH 2008

* Note: Aggregate percentages surpass 100 because children can be removed for multiple reasons

RICHMOND

NEGLECT: 66 percent

INADEQUATE HOUSING: 24 percent

DRUG AND/OR ALCOHOL ABUSE BY CARETAKER: 23 percent

PHYSICAL ABUSE: 21 percent

COLUMBIA

NEGLECT: 86 percent

DRUG AND/OR ALCOHOL ABUSE BY CARETAKER: 47 percent

INADEQUATE HOUSING: 29 percent

CARETAKER'S INABILITY TO COPE: 16 percent

BURKE

DRUG AND/OR ALCOHOL ABUSE BY CARETAKER: 86 percent

INADEQUATE HOUSING: 57 percent

ABANDONMENT: 29 percent

PHYSICAL ABUSE: 14 percent

CIRCUIT

NEGLECT: 68 percent

DRUG AND/OR ALCOHOL ABUSE BY CARETAKER: 29 percent

INADEQUATE HOUSING: 26 percent

PHYSICAL ABUSE: 18 percent

STATEWIDE

NEGLECT: 60 percent

DRUG AND/OR ALCOHOL ABUSE BY CARETAKER: 28 percent

INADEQUATE HOUSING: 15 percent

PHYSICAL ABUSE: 13 percent

CARETAKER'S INABILITY TO COPE: 13 percent

FOSTER CARE POPULATION

Per 10,000 children, as of March 31, 2008

RICHMOND: 58 (306 total)

BURKE: 21 (15 total)

COLUMBIA: 10 (32 total)

CIRCUIT: 38 (353 total)

STATEWIDE: 43

MEDIAN LENGTH CHILDREN IN CARE STAYED IN STATE CUSTODY, AS OF MARCH 31, 2008

BURKE: 20 months

RICHMOND: 10.3 months

COLUMBIA: 3.5 months

CIRCUIT: 9.9 months

STATEWIDE: 14.7 months

TOP FOUR PLACEMENTS FOR CHILDREN IN CARE WHO WERE DISCHARGED FROM APRIL 2007 TO MARCH 2008

RICHMOND

REUNITED WITH PARENT/PARENTS: 47 percent

WITH A RELATIVE: 30 percent

ADOPTED: 14 percent

PLACED WITH A GUARDIAN: 4 percent (tie)

BECAME EMANCIPATED: 4 percent (tie)

COLUMBIA

WITH A RELATIVE: 45 percent

REUNITED WITH PARENT/PARENTS: 36 percent

PLACED WITH A GUARDIAN: 16 percent

ADOPTED: 2 percent (tie)

BECAME EMANCIPATED: 2 percent (tie)

BURKE

WITH A RELATIVE: 69 percent

REUNITED WITH PARENT/PARENTS: 23 percent

OTHER (RAN AWAY/DEATH): 8 percent

(Percentages for all other categories were zero)

CIRCUIT

REUNITED WITH PARENT/PARENTS: 44 percent

WITH A RELATIVE: 34 percent

ADOPTED: 1 1 percent

WITH A GUARDIAN: 6 percent

STATEWIDE

REUNITED WITH PARENT/PARENTS: 46 percent

WITH A RELATIVE: 24 percent

ADOPTED: 14 percent

BECAME EMANCIPATED: 8 percent

MEDIAN MONTHS FROM REMOVAL TO ADOPTION BETWEEN APRIL 2007 AND MARCH 2008

COLUMBIA: 85.5

RICHMOND: 38.4

BURKE: Not applicable (none adopted)

CIRCUIT: 38.6

STATEWIDE: 33.4

Source: Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System and the Protective Services Data System, compiled by Fostering Court Improvement