The Georgia Cold Case Project
However, the Fellows were unable to determine exactly how many of the children had a CASA, and voiced concerned about the lack of CASA reports in the case files where an advocate was mentioned. It is unclear if DFCS does not regularly receive reports, or if CASA reports are not typically maintained as part of the DFCS case records. During case deliberations, it was often noted that the CASA reports provided some of the most detailed case narrative and history of all the documents found in the files. In addition to containing detailed information on the child and case, the reports also reflected that many CASA volunteers were providing strong advocacy for the children they represented. In one case a child communicated to his CASA that he wanted contact with family members not seen in a long time. The CASA volunteer worked closely with the court and DFCS to ensure that regular family visits between the child and family ensued. In another case, a DFCS case manager noted that a CASA volunteer was one of the only regular visitors for an institutionalized child. One CASA resigned as an advocate for a cold case child in order to begin the process of becoming her permanent placement.
Other positive permanency practices noted at DFCS included: case managers going to great efforts to keep siblings placed together, strong bonds between case managers and children, and detailed efforts contained in the record to show that DFCS made reasonable efforts to work with families prior to removal. Despite the difficulty of cold cases and the challenges the case managers faced, the Fellows found many examples of “good practice” to be applauded.
Legal Requirements of the Child & Family Services Review
Fellows examined for each case eight of the legal requirements placed on Georgia by the federal Child and Family Services Review (as described in Chapter 2). A summary of the Fellows’ collective assessment of each issue is provided below. A few additional issues were included in this review, such as child representation and the practice of passing original documents (birth certificate, social security card) to foster kids as they age out of care.
A clear picture emerges of the cold case files reviewed – they would not fare well on a CFSR review. However, as noted earlier, many of the cold cases reflect outdated agency practices because the cases have been in the system for so many years. Key areas of weakness include diligent search documentation, signed WTLPs, documented connection to ILP services, and evidence of a plan for education/health/housing. A key component of this project was to use the follow-up phone calls to educate DFCS representatives of the importance of these areas in a CFSR file review. In that process, many county DFCS representatives volunteered to take corrective action with reviewed files in order to serve children and help the state meet federal standards.
During a CFSR review, documentation of a diligent search is required. While current DFCS policy (2102.3a) requires that a diligent search be completed within 60 days of a child’s removal, many of the cold cases entered care under a former policy. This DFCS policy is soon to be changed to 30 days. Fellows searched DFCS files to determine if a diligent search had been