The Georgia Cold Case Project
During case reviews several instances were noted in which scheduled visits between children and family or siblings were withheld due to poor behavior on the part of the child.
Other case managers made extraordinary efforts. A case manager asked Jim, a 15-year-old with no family connections, for recommendations on adults with whom he felt comfortable. Once Jim discussed the family of a school friend, the case manager not only fostered a relationship between Jim and the adults, but they became his permanent guardians. During follow-up calls, DFCS representatives in four counties said they would try to foster an adult connection for the cases reviewed.
Evidence of a Plan for Education, Health and Housing
For the children that were still in DFCS custody at the time of file review, there was evidence in the file of a plan for future education, health, or housing needs for only half (48%) of the children. While 34% of files had a plan for educational needs, 22% had a plan for housing, and 20% had a plan for health needs, only 16% of cases included evidence of a plan for all three. During follow-up calls, DFCS representatives in five counties indicated that they would ensure that the files for the reviewed children would contain evidence of such plans.
Child Representation and Court Attendance
Only one in ten files reviewed contained a court order appointing an attorney for the child. File documentation and case manager interviews indicated that roughly one quarter (27%) of cold cases actually had an attorney. Nearly half of the children (47%) had a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), usually an attorney appointed by the court to represent the child. The files lacked information to indicate that children were attending their own court hearings and contained many examples of children who had not attended court hearings regularly. One straight-A student resided in a group home in the same county of removal, yet never participated in a Citizens Review Panel or any court proceedings.
Case files also lacked documentation to indicate that children and their advocates were properly notified when legally required. Proper notice would include: notice of proposed placement changes; advisement of legal rights regarding WTLPs; and advisement of their right to obtain and consent to confidential reproductive health treatment. Also critical are the rights to stability in school placements and access to healthcare treatment providers and records. Omissions of court notice and access limit the effectiveness of a child’s advocate.
The Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care recommends that children and their parents should have effective representation, trained special advocates, and the ability to participate in dependency court proceedings in a meaningful way10. Participation in the judicial process helps the child understand and have a feeling of control over the process. It is also valuable to the judge who can obtain information directly from the child11. The Children’s Action Alliance in Arizona believes so strongly in the importance of involving children in dependency court that in 2008 they recommended the Arizona Supreme Court adopt rules to ensure children have the right to