conducted within 90 days of the child coming into care, and if searches had been updated over time. Since the Fellows did not have on-site access to automated case information captured in SHINES, their examination was limited to the paper files. The vast majority of the cases reviewed were initiated prior to development of the SHINES database, so the assumption was that reports should have been contained in the files. If a Fellow was unable to locate a diligent search, the research team accessed SHINES and forwarded to the Fellow any located searches. In addition, a diligent search report is required by Georgia law to be submitted to the court and a record of that submission should be in the DFCS file.
In 41% of files reviewed there was no evidence of a diligent search. For 15% of the cases, a diligent search was completed within 90 days of removal. In another 19%, a diligent search was completed after 90 days (40% of which occurred within 180 days). In one suburban county, all cases reviewed were found to lack diligent search information. Despite the utility and value of Accurint searches, there was very little evidence that this tool was commonly used, or that diligent searches were being regularly updated. This pattern was statewide as opposed to localized in selected counties. In 21% of cases the Fellow was not able to locate information in the file but it was provided from SHINES or a case manager. During follow-up calls, DFCS representatives in ten counties volunteered to place the proper diligent search information in the reviewed files.
Of specific concern among Fellows was the lack of diligent searches to locate absentee fathers and paternal family members. An additional concern was the lack of documentation of children engaged in the process of identifying relatives. One child provided the name of a relative only to be told by a case manager that such a relative did not exist. During the file review, the Fellow found an old report documenting that the relative was indeed identified and interviewed during the initial assessment.
The Fellows also noted several files where family members had been located, but the file lacked any evidence of contact. In one case there were six diligent searches and two Accurint searches conducted yet no efforts were made for the child to meet unknown family members to see if relationships could be fostered that might lead to a relative placement or a family visiting resource.
Less than half (46%) of files reviewed had legal documentation to indicate that a permanency hearing was held within the required one year of the child coming into care. In 32% of cases permanency hearing orders were found, but the hearings were not held within one year. In another 6% of cases, there was a timely hearing held but it was not called a “permanency hearing” in the documentation. During follow-up calls, DFCS representatives in four counties indicated that they would locate or request from the court the proper documentation for inclusion in the files.
Reasonable Efforts to Achieve Permanency
The majority of files (71%) contained documentation in court orders of “reasonable efforts” to achieve permanency. However, Fellows expressed concern that the reasonable efforts language used in 6% of cases would not