The Georgia Cold Case Project
eligible cold case children received ILP services. The reasons for not participating were varied and often unclear. Of case managers surveyed, 8% indicated their county had little or no ILP services. Clearly ILP services vary greatly by county. All eligible children should be educated about ILP services and the value of participation. Georgia should provide the same programs and services to all foster children regardless of their county of residence.
Recommendation #6: Improve education to children about the benefits of remaining in care beyond age 18.
File reviews uncovered widely varying practices of educating children about the benefits of remaining in care beyond age 18. According to case managers surveyed, no standard exists for how and when these conversations take place. The majority of case managers (76%) report responsibility for the education process, although they engage in conversations about benefits anywhere between the ages of 14 and 18. A specific protocol should be developed to address how and when children are educated about remaining in care beyond age 18. Some case managers insightfully suggested that a third party explain all the issues to a child in order to maximize the impact. Clear policies should also be established and conveyed to children about how they can be excluded from eligibility. This education process would allow foster children to understand their rights and better make decisions for their future.
Recommendation #7: Ensure children receive meaningful representation and attend judicial proceedings.
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 way.19 Only one in four (27%) cold case children had an attorney. Files also lacked documentation of children attending their own court hearings. SAAGs estimated 37% and DFCS case managers estimated 43% of foster children regularly attend court hearings. Files typically contained insufficient information to determine if a CASA was appointed. Finally, case files lacked documentation to indicate proper legal notification of advocates.
Children should also always have contact information and never be denied access to their advocate. DFCS can improve the situation by updating and enforcing policies allowing advocates (non-attorney and attorney) access to the agency records and participation in selected staffings. In order to properly advocate for the needs of the child, advocates should be involved in all judicial hearings and panel reviews and should have proper notice of all legal court proceedings. In return, the advocate bears the responsibility of ensuring that the court and DFCS are aware of all of the child’s needs. It is recommended that Georgia courts consider policies which would ensure that children are actively participating in their own court proceedings. If barriers such as institutional or out of county placement are a problem, avenues such as telephone or internet participation should be made available to the child (following the example of an innovative case manager who utilized free Skype communication services).