New York-based Children's Rights claims in a new report that the state has relaxed monitoring and enforcement of private agencies contracted to provide homes for foster children and that abuse and neglect have risen among Atlanta's foster children.
Child safety has always been the agency's priority, said Dena Smith, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, which includes the Division of Family and Children's Services.
"We've done great things in the sense of keeping children safe," Smith said on Friday. "Even this report says that we've done better than ever."
The division has been under a consent decree since 2005. The agreement stems from a 2002 class action lawsuit in which Children's Rights claimed that Georgia's child protection agencies were overburdened and mismanaged. The group alleged that children languished for months in dangerous shelters, and others lived in dirty and overcrowded conditions.
Under the terms of the decree, DFCS agreed to independent monitoring and periodic progress reports.
Friday's report covers the first six months of 2009 and was issued by independent monitors appointed by the court to track the state Division of Family and Children's Services' progress under the terms of the settlement. It is the seventh report issued to date.
Related to the report's findings, Children's Rights also sent a letter dated Jan. 19 to Department of Human Services counsel Brenda Woodard requesting a meeting to discuss the group's concerns.
While the report points out that some case managers still have far too many children under their watch and that the agency is taking too long to place children in permanent homes, the agency has made improvements in case manager visits to children in foster care and visits among siblings in foster care.
The report also accuses the state of relaxed monitoring and enforcement of private agencies contracted to provide homes for foster children. Smith said more resources have been directed to monitoring those providers and that DFCS is meeting regularly with those agencies.
"This will reflect in a positive way in our next reporting period," Smith said.