Kelsey Smith-Briggs

An Advocacy Group’s Successful Approach of Strengthening Child Services Nationwide

More than four-years after Children’s Rights, a New York-based non-profit, filed a law suit on behalf of nine children in Oklahoma, a settlement has been reached that will bring changes to the state’s child welfare system. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell approved the settlement reached between Children’s Rights and Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services in January. “There just has not been the funding to hit some of these critical needs,” Sheree Powell, communications coordinator for the state’s Department of Human Services, said. “We don’t control the purse strings, but it was understood in federal court that we’ll make good-faith efforts to improve everything within our control.”

Under the agreement, “specific strategies to improve the child welfare system” as it relates to 15 performance areas will be outlined, detailed and put into practice over the next four years. “We’re confident the settlement will result in better services and protection than foster children [in Oklahoma] currently receive,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, Founder and Executive Director of Children’s Rights.

From the Cold Case Files, a Child Who Shouldn’t Have to be Alone

Jessica is 17 years old and has learned how to take care of herself. She doesn’t quite understand, though, that she shouldn’t have to. Jessica has been in the state custody of Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) since October 2007 when she disclosed that her father had been sexually molesting her for the past two years. After she and her brother and sister were removed, her younger sister also disclosed that their father and their mother had sexually molested her. Both of her parents have been criminally charged, but the cases are still pending after more than three years.

Departure of Family and Child Services Director Leaves Many Stunned

The sudden departure Monday of Georgia’s Division of Children and Family Services (DFCS) director Rachelle Carnesale after less than a year left many child advocates scratching their heads. “It is a surprise to everybody,” said Normer Adams, Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children. A statement from Department of Human Services (DHS) spokesperson Ravae Graham said only that “Rachelle Carnesale is no longer with the Department.”

According to two child welfare specialists familiar with the situation, who wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject, DHS Commissioner Clyde Reese fired Carnesale. One specialist speculated Carnesale was dismissed because she was not making progress at the agency fast enough for Reese. He went on to say that, despite her good work, Carnesale did not have a “high profile presence” at the agency.

Interim Director of Georgia Family and Child Services Division Announced

Following the sudden departure of director Rachelle Carnesale, Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Clyde Reese has named new interim leadership at the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS). Deputy Director Ron Scroggy will serve as Acting Director of DFCS. His new Acting Deputy Director will be Katherine Herren. In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Reese stressed the safety of the children involved with Georgia’s welfare agency was the top priority. “During this period of transition, it was important to appoint individuals that were experienced with Georgia’s social services field,” said Reese.

The Tragic Story of an Innocent Child

At the age of four William* was found wandering naked in his neighborhood. His home was “deplorable and unsanitary,” his room was covered in feces and urine. He was discovered to have suffered sexual abuse, and … he was kept in a cage. Some could argue that meth made her do it, his mom that is. Drug addict or not, William’s mother was charged with three felony child cruelty counts and is in prison today.

Only Never is Too Late for a Foster Child

Hope’s* earliest memories are with her younger sister and her mother. But these are not the fond memories of a warm and carefree childhood, rather they are full of the pain she felt from watching her mother struggle with drug addiction. Hope’s mother loved her two girls, but did not consistently provide for the basic needs of her children, often leaving them for long periods of time with relatives with no explanation. At the age of 8, Hope’s life changed forever. Her relatives, realizing that the girls had been abandoned, and deciding they would not or could not care for the two children, called Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and the children entered foster care.

A Cold Case Review Results in Reunification with a Father

Last year, the Cold Case team reviewed a massive file of a 14-year-old foster child named Charlie. Among the state of Georgia forms, reports, statements and all things bureaucratic was a long-forgotten letter from his kindergarten teacher when the boy was 5. In the letter, the teacher pled for intervention for Charlie*. She obviously cared for her student, who came to school without a coat or socks in cold weather, sometimes wearing filthy underwear. The teacher noted that Charlie was frequently hungry at school and also described the emotional abuse she witnessed when visiting him in his roach-infested home.

Foster Care Meds Bill Spirit Lives On In New Pilot Program

A bill aimed at preventing the overmedication of Georgia’s foster children might be dead this legislative session, but the spirit of the legislation lives on in a new a pilot program underway, its sponsor says. House Bill 23, the Foster Children’s Psychotropic Medication Monitoring Act, did not make last week’s critical “Crossover Day” deadline to advance to the state Senate, but Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) has confirmed that Casey Family Programs has stepped in to help assess the problem that the measure sought to address. The Seattle-based national foundation is funding a review of prescription patterns of psychotropic drugs for children in Georgia’s foster care system. The effort comes on the heels of a state Supreme Court report that found many children in state custody for extended periods are prescribed psychotropic drugs at “alarmingly high rates.” Casey has not yet disclosed the amount of money earmarked for the program that unofficially began in February. The Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University Law School will operate the program, in partnership with the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) and other community partners.

Debate Rages On Over Proposed Child Runaway Bill

A spirited debate has prompted members of a Georgia House of Representatives subcommittee to call for a second hearing on legislation that would allow homeless shelters to provide emergency housing and services to runaway children without immediate parental notification. Members of the Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee decided to include Georgia’s Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) in a future hearing on the Runaway Youth Safety Act, after scheduled testimony ran over time Tuesday. “We need to hear from DFCS,” said chairman Rep. Ed Setzler, (R-Acworth) of the next hearing to be planned for HB 185. “We need DFCS to be involved.”

As drafted, the measure would protect facilities that serve runaways from violating two state laws: contributing to the unruliness of a minor and interference of custody of a parent, so long as staffers either contact a parent or file an abuse report within the first 72 hours of contact with the child. Committee members sipped on Coca-Cola and Dasani water as they peppered the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tom Weldon (R-Ringgold),  with questions during the standing-room-only hearing at the state capitol.

Child Welfare Agencies Tell Lawmakers Full Time ‘Medical Director’ Would Benefit Kids

There’s a new push for a full time medical director to oversee the medical needs of children in the care of both the Georgia’s Department of Human Services (DHS) and Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS). Commissioner Clyde Reese III and DFCS Director Rachelle Carnesale, both new to their posts, announced their support for the position during a recent House Children & Youth Committee meeting at the state capitol. “We believe that the appointment of a full time medical director would be beneficial to the department and the children we serve,” Reese said, during the hour-long meeting that covered updates on the status of foster care and child support collection services for the state’s children. The Medicaid and Medicare programs were also discussed. “We think it would be most beneficial to work with someone who does that every day.”

Carnesale echoed a similar sentiment.