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Accountability: When calling DFCS isn't enough

8:15 PM, Nov 7, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- Every time a child dies, Georgia's Office of the Child Advocate investigates. The director says our outrage should be directed at the parents or family members who so brutally hurt young, innocent lives. But Tonya Boga says if DFCS does make a mistake, it should be held accountable.

Boga admits sometimes mistakes are made. She says that's when her office can truly help, not to investigate a death, but to prevent one.

"If you're making a complaint to your local DFCS and you feel like you're not being heard or the concerns that you're trying to share regarding a child isn't being investigated, then you have a recourse. You call us," said Boga.

The number to the Office of the Child Advocate is 404-656-4200

Boga says anyone can use it.  Family, friends, neighbors, even case workers who feel  pressured to close a file.

Boga says with each child's death, her office looks to improve the system. She points to the state's new abuse reporting hotline.   1-855-GACHILD launched in September.  It will take five months for every county to get online.  Boga believes a central intake system will create consistency in how reports of abuse are treated.

11Alive has learned the system is not yet working as DFCS had hoped.  One woman who mustered the courage to call and report suspect neglect was able to do little more than leave a message.  Four days later, she had yet to hear from a case worker, willing to hear more.

Boga promises to look into and resolve the matter.  But stresses as DFCS works to fix its weaknesses, the community must do its part as well.

11Alive has received emails from viewers asking if there's a way they can help.  Unfortunately due to the sensitive nature of DFCS work, there's little anyone can do to directly help with a case, but Boga says there's still ways to get involved.

There's always a need for foster parents, so case workers have homes to place children while families are working out their issues.

Non-profit groups that work with foster children can also often use volunteers.

More immediate, Boga says encouragement is key.  Think of things you'd do for police or firemen to show them support.  Boga admits it may sound cheesy, but a card or plate of brownies can go along way to letting your local team know you stand behind them.

Case workers confront dangerous situations, generally with families that wish they weren't there. 

Other advocates also say the community needs to keep an open mind during budget discussions, if additional funding is what the division says it needs.

Perhaps most importantly, is not being afraid to report abuse, repeatedly if necessary.  1-855-GACHILD.

To comment on this story, email rlindstrom@11alive.com.

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