The recent abrupt closure of Prevent Child Abuse Georgia – a non-profit child welfare organization with a 25-plus year history – is a devastating setback for efforts to protect abused and neglected kids, many local advocates say.
“The closure of PCA GA leaves two gaps in our community, one being the loss in regards to community education,” said Pat Willis, executive director of Voices for Georgia’s Children. “This organization did so much to raise awareness and to provide community support to prevent the abuse and neglect of children in our state. The other, quite frankly, is in regards to community support. Whenever we lose a non-profit that was such a stalwart for children it raises the question, ‘Are we as a community doing all that we can to support efforts to protect children in our state?’”
Former PCA GA Program Specialist and Training Manager Anna Curtis announced its untimely demise in a tersely-written email time-stamped 10:50 p.m. Wednesday, March 16.
“I was informed yesterday that the organization is dissolving,” the message read. “I would like to thank everyone that I have worked with over this time. It has been a privilege to count myself among those who have worked here and as a colleague to those who have partnered with PCA GA around the state.”
The email also imparted regrets from the organization’s Chief Executive Officer DePriest Waddy.
“Prevent Child Abuse Georgia regrets that due to the economy and circumstances beyond our control, we are no longer able to continue our operations,” read Waddy’s message. “We are thankful for the many partners and stakeholders who have supported us over the years in helping to prevent child abuse and neglect in all forms.”
Besides the mass email, the organization’s leadership has been tight-lipped about sharing the specific details of what led to the closure. Waddy politely declined an interview with JJIE.org, but thanked us for our “interest” in PCA GA. “Unfortunately our wind down is quite involved and we have no one available for an interview,” he wrote in an email. “We appreciate your support.”
Several supporters of the organization who agreed to speak to JJIE.org under the condition of anonymity out of fear of damaging relationships with others in non-profit circles speculated on what caused the organization’s problems. They suggested that a mixture of multiple “reorganizations” (which included several leadership changes), recession-driven funding shortages experienced by most non-profits and the elimination of a dedicated lobbyist position likely contributed to PCA GA’s woes.
One source said the organization also reportedly suffered a major blow in 2008 when a major funding source, the Children’s Trust Fund, was eliminated. It merged with the Children & Youth Coordinating Council. Then Governor Sonny Perdue combined the two funds into the Governor's Office for Children and Families (GOCF) reportedly to “unite and coordinate" the efforts of agencies “responsible for serving Georgia’s children and families.”
“We’re all having trouble right now; this economy has hit all of us,” said Willis of fellow child-focused non-profits. “Clearly this organization has been through a lot in recent years.”
While the specific details of the closure remain unclear, the indelible mark that PCA GA made on child abuse prevention and education initiatives in the state, however, seems clear. Among the accomplishments the organization has touted on its former website as benchmarks of achievement include:
· The establishment of 43 PCA GA-affiliated Charter Councils (still in existence) that serve children and families in 63 counties through education and prevention initiatives.
· Thousands of families received home visitation services for at least 12 months through its Healthy Families Georgia, a program that reportedly resulted in a 40 percent reduction in child maltreatment.
· The First Steps program, where new parents receive regular support phone calls for parents who request support for the first three months of their baby's life, served 18,000 families statewide in one year alone.
· Its 1-800 CHILDREN educational helpline fielded more than 10,000 calls in its first four years of operation.
· Thousands of professionals and community members learned about child abuse prevention through PCA GA staff presentations.
“We have PCA GA to thank for developing our first home visit program in the state,” added Willis. “They certainly laid the foundation for that and other great prevention and education programming in our state.”
Former Barton Child Law & Policy Center Director Karen Worthington agreed with her colleague. She said PCA GA’s closure will leave a huge void that the remaining agencies and non-profits will, undoubtedly, struggle to fill.
“Georgia no longer has an organization whose sole focus is preventing child maltreatment,” said Worthington, now a child welfare and juvenile justice consultant in Kula, Hawaii. “Protecting children from abuse and neglect involves a continuum of tasks and services including preventing child abuse, identifying maltreated children, investigating the maltreatment, intervening to protect children, providing indicated services, and if necessary, entering into the juvenile or criminal court processes.”
Although many state child welfare agencies and nonprofit agencies are charged with protecting at-risk children, “ultimately preventing child maltreatment is a community responsibility,” Worthington noted.
As the harsh reality of PCA GA’s unexpected end has sunken in, Willis said she hopes other organizations, including her own, will learn from this unfortunate occurrence. “This should be a wake up call to all non-profits,” Willis said. “This was an organization that had a long history in our state and had a lot of community respect and support. This lets us all know that we should never take anything for granted. I hate to think of what this will ultimately mean for efforts to protect abused and neglected children in Georgia.”
Got a juvenile justice story idea? Contact JJIE.org staff writer Chandra R. Thomas at email@example.com. Thomas, a former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow and Kiplinger Public Affairs Journalism Fellow, is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for Fox 5 News in Atlanta and People, Essence and Atlanta magazines.