by: Kerry Kavanaugh Updated:
ATLANTA - Thousands of Georgia children are potentially at risk because of a backlog at the Department of Family and Children Services, according to the agency’s interim director, Bobby Cagle.
"As soon as I saw this, I knew it was something we had to work on and do it quickly,” said Cagle.
Cagle told Channel 2’s Kerry Kavanaugh that’s why, in just his second week on the job, he's mandating a minimum of eight hours a week overtime to tackle some 3,300 cases overdue for investigation.
Cagle says the goal is to have cases investigated within 45 days.
"How overdue are they?” Kavanaugh asked.
“It's on a whole range, so we have from 46 days to 90 days,” Cagle said.
This is just the latest change at DFCS since the state's most recent high-profile child death. The agency says 5-year-old Heaven Woods' case was not behind schedule and there was an active DFCS investigation at the time she was murdered in May. Police say Heaven died at the hands of her mother and the mother's boyfriend.
Cagle said potential investigative errors along with the backlog could be due to case worker's work load.
DFCS says on-average case workers are juggling 20 cases each. In some counties, such as Cobb and Gwinnett, the individual caseload has reached 100 per worker.
"What I'm trying to do is devise (a) short term solution to the problems we see with investigations, to bring additional help from other parts of the state that aren't currently carrying case loads, including from our state office," Cagle said.
He added the temporary overtime infusion is not meant to be a long term solution.
“We also have to have a constant focus ensuring cases are moving through the process,” said Cagle.
He said that will happen through constant monitoring of individual county data.
In addition, 175 new case workers are set to begin training in July. Those workers are part of a commitment made previously by Gov. Nathan Deal.
"Children's lives are fragile and they hang in the balance when we do these investigations,” Cagle said.
Cagle says the state's budget office is committed to allocating the $2 million to cover the overtime. He hopes to clear the backlog by July.
Cagle says he has made himself available to his case workers and understands they have one of the toughest jobs out there.
To make sure they are heard, Cagle says he’s provided each of them with his cell phone number.