The Georgia Cold Case Project
Chapter 4: Feedback from the Field
After completion of the cold case file reviews, anonymous online surveys were conducted with two groups that work daily with foster children and have special insight into cold cases – Special Assistant Attorneys General (SAAGs) and DFCS case managers. The purpose of the surveys was to illicit qualitative detail on issues of concern, particularly areas where file review data was sparse or unclear. On March 23, 2010, an email message requesting participation with a link to the survey web site was sent to all SAAGs and County DFCS Directors in Georgia. Since a master list of Georgia DFCS case managers does not exist, the DFCS Director email contained a request to forward the message to all case managers within their county. Reminder emails were sent seven days following the introduction, and the survey web site remained open for three weeks.
A total of 177 completed surveys were received – 132 case managers and 45 SAAGs. Given an unknown number of case managers, a response rate cannot be calculated. Of the 132 case managers, one-third served an urban/ suburban county and two-thirds were in a rural county (32% urban vs. 68% rural). Emails went out to 106 SAAGs, eight of which were returned with undeliverable addresses. Thus the 45 completed surveys reflect a 46% response rate. SAAG respondents were more evenly split across urban/ suburban and rural locales (53% urban vs. 47% rural).
Case Manager Survey
During the file reviews, 41% of cold cases lacked documentation of a diligent search (required by law within the first 90 days of care). In order to assess current practices, respondents were asked how many months a child is typically in care before a diligent search is conducted. Responses ranged from less than one month to six months, with an average of 1.5 months. Two- thirds of respondents said that diligent searches are currently conducted within one month of entering care. After the initial diligent search, 76% of respondents said they conduct new searches at least every six months; 9% said diligent searches are done annually and 15% said they are conducted ongoing as needed.
The file reviews revealed that one in four APPLA cases had no compelling reasons documented for choosing this permanency plan. When DFCS case managers were asked to list the most common reason they would choose APPLA as the permanency plan, the number one answer (30% of responses) was that the child does not want to be adopted. Some stipulated that the child needed to be of a certain age when they made this proclamation, ranging from age 14 to age 17 depending on the respondent. Of the remaining responses, 28% said when reunification is not an option for a child and no fit and willing relatives can be located, 17% said it was dependent on the age of the child, and 15% said it was their last choice to only be used when all other options for permanency are been exhausted. Other less frequent reasons for choosing APPLA included the extreme behavioral/mental health/physical needs of a child (11%), when a child has consistently disrupted all of their placements (3%), when they believe it is in the best interest of the child (2%).