GBI probes DFCS as state defends actions

Tue, 04/17/2007 - 4:44pm
By: John Munford

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is now probing the handling of a child abuse case in which the Fayetteville mother accused of striking her child multiple times with a belt is also the assistant director of Fulton County’s office of the Department of Family and Children Services.

Mary Dean Harvey, the state director of DFCS, insists that the investigation on the abuse claim lodged against Cylenthia Clark was handled appropriately, contrary to indications from an investigative report on the matter published by The Citizen last week.

According to multiple sources, Harvey ordered the children removed from their initial placement in foster care upon Clark’s arrest for one felony count of cruelty to children. Harvey ordered that the 8-year-old victim and her three siblings be put in the custody of their grandmother, who also happens to be Clark’s mother.

A Fayette County juvenile court judge ruled days later, however, that the children would be best served by going to live with their father in Chicago instead of remaining in Georgia with their grandmother as Harvey had ordered.

A judge in Cook County, Ill., where the family previously lived, also has reversed his initial determination on custody in the pending divorce case between Cylenthia Clark and her husband, John Clark, The Citizen has learned. The judge has withdrawn the initial decision allowing Cylenthia Clark to have custody of the children; she had also obtained permission from the Illinois court to move them out of state.

In a letter printed fully on Page A4, Harvey states the preference of DFCS is to place children with family members to minimize disruption to their lives.

“... It is not unusual, when there is no reason to fear for the safety of children, for caseworkers to leave them in the custody of the accused parent, with a safety plan, while an investigation continues,” Harvey wrote. “And after completion of a successful home evaluation, it is not unusual practice to place children with relatives and delay the background check and drug screening over a weekend or a holiday.”

Harvey also defends how DFCS provided Clark with photos taken by Fayette DFCS workers of the actual injuries to the child. Clark showed TV crews the photos days after her arrest as she claimed she was not guilty of the criminal charge of felony cruelty to children. In her letter, Harvey insists that providing such evidence to parents is accepted practice state-wide.

“In keeping with JJ vs Ledbetter, a court ruling that gives parents the right to evidence gathered regarding an allegation of abuse or neglect, DFCS released those photos to her,” Harvey wrote. “We would and should do the same thing for any parent who asks.”

A copy of the state’s policy on the matter obtained by The Citizen states that the pictures “may be viewed by the client and/or attorney at reasonable times arranged with the case manager.” Such photos are also included in a list of items for which “copies” must be provided to parents upon request, indicating that the policy is unclear.

Harvey also said in the letter that the Department of Human Resources Office of Investigative Services had determined that there is “absolutely no evidence of favoritism or cover-up in this case.”

Georgia’s Child Advocate Office, an agency independent of DFCS and DHR, is also investigating the matter. That investigation won’t be concluded until the matter is concluded in juvenile court, which could take a month or more, officials said.

In a video report on, Ms. Clark says she “spanked” the child for poor behavior at school as a last resort in part because her daughter had been in a fight in school and also hit a teacher the day of the “spanking”.

“I am not an abuser. I don’t think my children have been abused in any way,” Clark said in the video.

Fayetteville police, meanwhile, have not dropped the charges against Clark, which are expected to be brought up for a possible indictment to a grand jury soon.

According to the warrant filed for Clark’s arrest, she ordered her 8-year-old daughter to strip to her underwear and then struck her with a belt more than 30 times.

Fayetteville police lodged the charges. The DFCS investigation was sparked by a report from the victim’s school after a school employee noticed some of the child’s injuries.

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