ATLANTA -- Ever since the death of Emani Moss, we've heard the promises. There's a new task force and Division of Family and Children Services director, both on a mission to audit the system. Lawmakers passed new legislation and funding before adjourning. But are the children in our state really any safer?
Those with background in the system say it all boils down to good case management, which is dependent on realistic case loads, training and support.
Five years ago, DFCS says it had more than 2,000 front line social workers. In March of this year it only had 1,633. According to an April internal report there were 392 jobs vacant. Case workers that couldn't take calls, research allegations of abuse or check in on a family in need.
"Our children are dying, too many, too quick, too soon, too often," said Jane Leonard, the former president of the Adoptive Association of Georgia.
We started looking into the numbers after receiving multiple calls from foster parents and case workers, especially concerned about Clayton County. DFCS admits, right now it only has five investigative case workers in that county -- three of those brand new to the job.
"They are hiring but these new workers are not trained, training takes approximately three months," said Denise Lewis, a former DFCS caseworker.
In a written statement, DFCS confirmed as much saying:
In order to have the certification necessary to manage a CPS caseload, employees must complete 66 hours of classroom training and 52 hours of on the job training. Completion of these requirements generally takes two to three months.
Once an employee has completed a specific portion of the classroom training, he/she can be provisionally certified to manage one case and assist as a second case manager to others, not to exceed 10 cases.
DFCS says its hoping to hire six more investigative case workers for Clayton county in the next month. But the shortfall comes as the number of abuse reports rise. In one year, it has gone from a statewide average of 6,000 calls a month to 7,300.
And it's not just Clayton county. An independent investigation by the Office of the Child Advocate has also found counties where case loads exceed 100 cases per worker. That's more than six times the nationally recommended average.
So what does that mean for the children?
"They are in danger because the caseworker is tired, stressed out," said Lewis.
"A lot of case managers don't come out to make home visits like they should. They may make a phone call," said Henrietta Harmin, a foster parent in DeKalb county.
In the 20 days Heaven Wood's abuse investigation was open before her death, there's only record of one person outside the family being interviewed. DFCS won't say whether case loads impacted the investigation, but an internal staffing report the month prior, shows nearly 23 percent of Floyd county's case worker positions were vacant.
In a phone interview, Rebecca Lindstrom asked acting director Bobby Cagle what we have to do to turn those numbers around.
"We have to get to the bottom of the question you're asking. Above all, we have to make sure we have the right people in the right jobs to carry out this very critical mission of protecting children," said Cagle.
We asked case workers why they were leaving. Some said better pay. Many are able to take their training at DFCS and turn it into better paying jobs in the private sector. But those that stay say its the office politics and bad management that wears them down.
Lewis says more training, realistic case loads and on the job counseling to handle some of the horrors they witness would also help.