Smith: DFACS children need to be on Coweta's agenda

by W. Winston Skinner

When the Georgia legislature convenes next month, additional funding for the Department of Family and Children Services will be among the topics before them.

For at least one legislator, however, the answer to the problems of children who have to be removed from their families needs to continue to be a local one. State Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, who represents part of Coweta County in the House of Representatives, told a Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce audience that Coweta County has a good record of addressing thorny issues.

'I believe we make a mistake in policy when we believe it becomes a state problem. I think we solve problems from within. I want to start that debate,' Smith said.

The deaths of children in other counties who were either served by DFACS or whose cases were not addressed by the agency has focused attention on DFACS, innocent children and those charged with protecting them. Gov. Nathan Deal has pledged additional funding for the agency statewide.

The problems with DFACS 'will get a lot of attention next session,' Smith predicted. 'I don't know how this will play out.'

Smith urged community leaders not to let the children who need assistance from DFACS become someone else's responsibility.

'I see it all the time. Once the power to solve a problem is put in a larger body, it is no longer anybody's job,' Smith said.

Smith pointed to several local initiatives that Cowetans envisioned and then developed to deal with problems. She noted Central Educational Center, where the Chamber meeting was held, began - in part - to reduce the high school dropout rate in the county.

Angel's House shelter was created several years ago when children taken into DFACS custody had to be housed in other counties - even if they just needed to be somewhere for a short period of time. Now the facility keeps many local youngsters in the county.

Smith also mentioned the Coweta Samaritan Clinic, the Boys and Girls Club, the Court Appointed Special Advocate Program, the county drug court and the development of local parks. She said the establishment of Coweta campuses for the University of West Georgia and West Georgia Technical College exemplify a focus 'upon career development' - and she praised reestablishment of the Communities in Schools program.

While all involve some expenditure of funds, Smith noted they also represent commitments of time and energy by local residents. 'I do not think the solution is always money,' she stated.

'Once you give a problem to the state to solve, you've removed your individual responsibility,' Smith said. 'We've got to get that back.'

I n No v emb e r , De a l announced a plan to spend about $27 million in state and federal funding to hire new case workers and supervisors for the state Department of Family and Children's Services. Deal spokesman Brian Robinson told Associated Press the governor's budget proposal for fiscal year 2015, which begins July 1, will include about $7.4 million in state funding to hire additional personnel for the agency.

Robinson said the governor plans to supplement that money with federal funding and reallocate that amount in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Robinson says the proposal calls for hiring 146 new case workers and 29 supervisors each year.

Smith said there is discussion of different ways of evaluating cases - including having more than one staff member look at each case. She said such changes might be helpful.

In November, the state family and children services officials announced the firings of two employees after the deaths of two children with whom the agency had been involved.



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