By Lori Glenn



MOULTRIE -- Plagued by high staff turnover in years past, Colquitt County

Department of Family and Children Services is holding its own -- for the

time being.

But the State of Georgia isn't doing much for morale, Director Sandra

Rogers said, not providing even the slightest raise in salary this year

when caseloads are mounting. Georgia pays its child protective service

workers about 20 percent below the national average, an article in the

Atlanta Journal Constitution said.

DFCS offices are expected to do more with less, Rogers said. The most

recent effect of a high-stress, high-accountability job with little in

the way of monetary reward or community recognition is the rash of case

worker resignations from the Lowndes County DFCS.

Rogers describes a snowball effect. The cases keep coming, workers are

spread too thin and everybody suffers. All the while, state auditors are

looking over workers' shoulders, holding them accountable for children's

safety.

"I feel so for the workers who have to pick up those vacant case loads,"

Rogers said. "You have workers who can't take the stress and they leave.

They fear that a child may die on their watch. And no matter how hard

they work -- they leave the parent thinking the child is going to be OK,

and then through no fault of the caseworker's -- the parent may be on

drugs, lose it and hurt the child. And then the public wants to connect

it to something the case worker should have seen or should have done. We

can look at the history, but we can't predict human behavior and we

can't control it.

"I believe the number of children in foster care has increased in the

state since the death of Terrell Peterson (a 5-year-old Decatur boy --

starved and battered -- found dead likely from a blow to the head in 1999

and over whom a lawsuit was filed against the state) and the publicity

surrounding that, because caseworkers are not willing to make the

decision to leave children whereas in the past they might have. They're

going to err on the side of child placement and child safety."

Right now, the Colquitt County DFCS employs 15 child protective service

workers, including five investigators. The office is working with 86

percent of its budget. It is holding six positions vacant and on top of

that one case worker resigned a couple of weeks ago and there haven't

been any applicants for the job, Rogers said.

That worker's caseload of 30 or so a month has to be picked up by the

remaining workers, and lately, the number of cases has spiked. In the

last fiscal year, ending June 30, 2003, 752 new abuse cases were opened

concerning 1,078 children, Rogers said. Out of those 752, some 246 cases

were substantiated.

Now, the state is cutting auxiliary positions deemed non-essential, which

is heaping more work upon the overloaded case workers.

On the table right now to be cut are family service workers, Rogers said.

They are auxiliary workers who make the lowest pay but are relied upon

to do a tremendous amount of work aiding the child protective service

and foster care worker.



To contact reporter Lori Glenn, call 985-4545, ext. 224.

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