Last week Governor-Elect Deal nominated Clyde Reese as the new Commissioner of Department of Human Services pending the expected approval of the DHS Board. Clyde Reese is currently serving as the Commissioner of the Department of Community Health. Present Commissioner of DHS, B.J. Walker has served as its Commissioner since May of 2004. During that time the Department has made remarkable progress in shifting the child welfare culture to family centered practices, increased family engagement and outcome based management and decision making. Faced with sanctions and fines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a child protection system busting at the seams with nearly 15,000 children, B.J.Walker’s mandate from the Governor was to bring about reform and improved outcomes for children. The numbers tell the story of these past six years. Since 2004, the number of children in foster care has been reduced by 50%. The re-abuse rate for children identified by the Department has declined by more than 70% and is half the national standard. Georgia has the fifth lowest rate of recurrence of child maltreatment in the U.S. In 2004, more than four thousand children had overdue investigations. Today that number is zero. Commissioner Walker in a letter to the board of DHS says, “I came here with much enthusiasm and energy. I leave that same way. Some of the most remarkable people I have ever known have worked for me here, put forth unbelievable efforts on behalf of the “right work, the right way,” and never let lack of time, money or resources take away from their desire to achieve greatness.”
On February 4, 2010, Downing Clark Center’s (DCC) license to provide residential care for 72 behaviorally disturbed children was revoked by the Office of Residential Child Care (ORCC). This revocation was based on nine alleged violations of licensing rules for Child Caring Institutions that came to “light” as a result of a “riot” on January 5, 2010. Downing Clark Center appealed this revocation. On September 23, Administrative Law Judge Steven W. Teate’s ruling reversed this revocation of license and removed seven out of the nine violation citations that led to this revocation. Two low level safety risk violations of licensing were substantiated by Judge Teate. On the evening of January 5, 2010, a prank 911 call was made to the Gordon County Sheriff’s Department from the Downing Clark Center in Gordon County by one of the residents with a contraband cell phone. Staff immediately advised the arriving deputies that there was no disturbance and everything was in order. Against the staff’s requests, 27 more deputies arrived and initiated what became a full scale police riot. These male officers barged into this all girl facility against the repeated pleas of staff. After the deputies exchanged racial slurs and sexist comments with the residents, 20 behaviorally and mentally challenged girls were taken to jail on a variety of charges. Judge Teate could find no basis for the deputies entering the facility based on a prank 911 call. Video of the entire night clearly showed the facility in order and in control by the staff when the deputies arrived. The deputy’s verbal testimony did not match what the Judge saw on the video. No disturbance was seen on the video. The video showed no doors breached, no screaming in the hallways and no “total chaos” in the facility.
Research funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that street outreach workers can be an effective strategy to reach and engage youth with the goal of violence prevention and intervention. Street workers are typically members of the community who intervene to prevent conflict and retaliation, and in some programs, also connect individuals with needed services, such as housing and job training. The study evaluated the program run by the United Teen Equality Center in Lowell, Mass., a city of 105,167 residents north of Boston. This program used a process of peacemaking, which typically involves engaging gang leaders in conflict mediation, convening peace circles, participating in peace summits, and organizing a peace council. The results are published in the Fall 2010 issue of Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action. For more information about the study click here
Normer Adams is Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children and a writer, speaker and consultant on family and social issues such as advocacy, lobbying, and child welfare policy. Learn more at www.gahsc.org/