The Georgia Cold Case Project
had an attorney, and less than half had a Guardian Ad Litem. A nationwide survey of dependency court judges found that only half had received any specialized training specific to their dependency docket.20 Georgia’s juvenile court judges receive specialized training in child welfare cases and they should conintue to do so to properly ensure legal compliance on deprivation cases. A state entity should provide “cold case lists” to all courts so that local efforts to manage cold cases can begin. A consistent approach to hold judicial reviews should be developed for cases in which parents voluntarily relinquish parental rights. When the court properly fulfills its role of oversight, permanency outcomes for foster children can only improve.
Recommendation #10: Provide services and support to adoptive families to reduce adoption dissolution.
One out of four cold case children (27%) had an adoption disruption and 18% had an adoption dissolution during their time in care. Failed adoptions have negative consequences on children in care “just when the child’s chances for happiness and success seem to be greatest.”21 When queried for recommendations, case managers’ number one response was to provide post-adoption support and services to families. Since the most common reason for adoption dissolution among cold cases was the behavior of the child, the need for family services appears critical. Adoptive families should be encouraged to seek help early, as providing services to families before a crisis can result in stronger family relationships.22 Studies show that most adoption dissolutions involving special needs children are the result of a lack of information about where to get services and the cost.23 Georgia should provide post-adoption mental health and other special services that children in adoptive families need.
Case managers also recommend educating prospective adoptive families about a child’s medical history, early exposure to drugs/alcohol, psychological reports, behavior problems, history of abuse, and family of origin. Work priorities of case mangers should allow them to be more involved with families and children prior to adoption to ensure a good fit.
An increased emphasis on concurrent planning is recommended as soon as the child enters state custody. Reunification with the parent may be the goal, but the case manager can plan concurrently for adoption or guardianship should the parents not follow though with their case plan. This strategy was seen in the cold cases as employed only after a child has been in care for a long time as a last ditch effort to prevent aging out. Finally, DFCS should expand and enforce early, quality child and family assessments to improve stable and permanent outcomes for children. This approach to permanency planning requires extensive legwork early in the case in order to find one “right” placement for a child during care (the “best placement”). Finding the best place first can end the endless placement shuffle and reduce the cycle of adopt-and-return.
Recommendation #11: Prosecute child sex abusers and ensure sexual abuse victims receive proper treatment.
Nearly one in three (29%) cold case children was a victim of sexual assault, primarily by parents and family members. Just as disturbing is the fact that many sexual perpetrators appear not to have been prosecuted. It