Local DFCS board at odds with region officials on investigations

Tue, 05/20/2008 - 4:31pm
By: Ben Nelms

Were several potential cases of abuse or neglect that have surfaced in Fayette County recently routed to Clayton County DFCS (Department of Family and Children’s Services) for a screening evaluation or does the Fayette County DFCS board have it all wrong?

Fayette’s screening capability was removed in early March and re-instituted May 9 after the local intake worker was re-trained in Clayton, though oversight is still required by Clayton County, according to Fayette DFCS Director Mary Davis and board members at a May 14 meeting.

For her part, DFCS Region 16 Director and Clayton DFCS Director Cathy Ratti said Monday that Fayette has never lost the ability to screen referrals.

Fayette DFCS board members May 14 took exception to the screening decisions while questioning the referral screening component of the new statewide Desired Response Pattern system implemented by DFCS that may have been involved in the decisions on the Fayette cases.

Clayton County DFCS staff were put in charge of screening Fayette County referrals in March because the local office was not screening out enough cases and taking too many referrals from state-mandated reporters of abuse or neglect that were judged to be unsubstantiated, according to Davis.

As of May 9, Fayette DFCS staff have resumed taking the reports, though that action came after the Fayette County intake worker had been re-trained in Clayton, Fayette DFCS board members said.

Clayton County DFCS also retains oversight of the work done by Fayette, they said.

Mandated reporters to the DFCS and Children’s Protective Services (CPS) system include professionals such as those in the medical, academic and social services and counseling fields. CPS is a part of DFCS.

In response, Ratti said that Region 16, including Fayette, Clayton and Henry counties, functions as a regional entity, but that Fayette County has responsibility for its area.

“Fayette never lost their ability to screen,” Ratti said Monday. “And the county director has always had the ability to make decisions. That has not changed.”

Present at the May 6 board meeting was Fayette Clinical Social Worker Connie Biemiller, who expressed concerns over a recent referral she had made to the agency. She said the referral was screened by the Clayton County DFCS representative who had apparently been put in charge of Fayette’s referrals.

In her statements to the board, Biemiller said the referral involved a 10-year-old who had been told to sleep “on top of dad” while staying at his home during spring break.

Biemiller said she was told by the Clayton County DFCS worker taking calls for Fayette that the case would probably be screened out, meaning the case would not be considered.

Biemiller said she had made another referral that she was told “would not be accepted,” according to board minutes.

Also speaking at the May 6 meeting, board member and Fayette County School System liaison Karen Spangler stated concerns about the new referral process.

Spangler said she had been approached by a school system staff member who had attempted to make a referral and had been told that it would not be accepted.

Spangler said she had also been approached by a member of local law enforcement regarding similar concerns over referrals.

In a lengthy notation to the May 6 meeting minutes, the board stressed its questioning of the rationale of the state DFCS ruling that treats Fayette County children essentially as numbers.

The Desired Response Pattern, sometimes called the Performance Pyramid, is now being enacted across the state. The pyramid is based on desirable outcomes where 11 percent of referrals are unsubstantiated and closed, 13 percent are substantiated and remain open, 15 are substantiated and closed, 15 percent are screened-out and 45 percent are diverted for various services through the DFCS system or to private providers.

“The board of Fayette County DFCS is very concerned and wants a solution to the problem. It was noted that Fayette County demographics and community standards are unique and board members feel that the new state standards do not correctly reflect the CPS mandate, which leaves the children of Fayette County exposed and endangered,” the May 6 board minutes read.

“Members also feel the re-training that staff have been given in the intake process is not consistent with statutory requirements and DHR policy. Specifically, the board feels that the imposition of the Desired Response Pattern on the Fayette County DFCS office inappropriately treats Fayette County children as ‘numbers’ and therefore fails to reflect the value Fayette places on families and children.”

Ratti said the Performance Pyramid is a tool to provide the best response to families, adding that Region 16 does not look like the pyramid.

Addressing the screen-out component of the pyramid, Ratti said that designation does not always mean that a referral is considered without merit.

Other options in the screen-out component may include sending a social worker to the home in question or referrals to a health department, hospital or a counselor.

Also commenting on the Performance Pyramid May 14, Fayette resident, city of Atlanta attorney and DFCS board member Angela Hinton Fonda said the situation with the Performance Pyramid in Fayette County is that it is tantamount to making the numbers work regardless of the reality.

Davis said Fayette board members have no problem with the CPS system. Their concern is with attempting to match referral numbers to the Performance Pyramid.

Ratti said all DFCS personnel are on the same team and that they want the same outcome for families.

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