by: Aaron Diamant Updated:ATLANTA —
Georgia child advocates tell Channel 2 Action News an aggressive state effort to keep at-risk children safe could do the exact opposite.
The biggest question they have:
Can the Department of Human Services actually afford that effort?
"Almost every day, I look at the numbers," said Normer Adams, executive director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children.
As Adams crunches those numbers, their concerns grow.
"This could completely make the house of cards come crashing down," warns Adams.
Advocates like Adams are worried a new safety push to protect more at-risk children spreads the DHS too thin.
"The system is completely strained beyond what it can possibly handle," Adams said.
Over the last year, state data
show the number of kids now in foster care grew by 10 percent, investigations into child abuse and neglect rose by 50 percent, and the number of Department of Family and Children Services cases shot up 17 percent.
That big push is underway even though DHS has lost more than $200 million in state and federal funding since 2009.
"Who's going to do that work," wonders Anna Avato, state director of Service Employees International Union Local 1985, which represents around 200 DFCS caseworkers.
"The folks who are there right now, don't have the staff or the resources to be able to do it," Avato said.
Avato said caseworkers are already struggling to keep up with their current cases.
"You have some case workers that have 30, 40, I've heard of
caseworkers having 50 cases," Avato said.
Avato also warns more work with fewer resources raises the risk of kids falling through the cracks.
"It's just impossible to do the quality visit that you need to do to make sure that child is in a safe, healthy and productive environment," Avato said.
Late Wednesday afternoon, DHS Commissioner Clyde Reese, sent Channel 2's Aaron Diamant a statement saying, "I disagree that DFCS cannot inject a safety principle into child welfare practice within current budget and staffing. I believe we can and will make the adjustment because it is the right thing to do. As an agency, we are prepared to do what it takes to help staff across the state implement a safety mechanism. I believe over time we will reach a healthy equilibrium of caseloads and child welfare staffing levels."
You can read more in Thursday's edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, including why some top officials say DFCS could soon run out of money, a county-by-county comparison of cases and drug screening for parents.