Appendix I: Individual Analyses of State Policies
Family Foster Care
Georgia Department of Human Resources
Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS)
Policy 2106 - Special Investigations
Does the policy address the investigation of allegations of maltreatment in foster care as a distinct investigatory process?
Is kinship/relative care addressed in the policy?
- Yes, the policy has separate sections on investigations of Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) foster homes and on private agency and state-operated homes. The definition of DFCS homes includes foster, foster/adopt, and adoptive homes before approval; placements with relatives; Granny Houses; and Interstate Compact placements. Granny Houses are "approved resources for children of mothers with addiction problems [and are] generally located in public housing and staffed by elder adults."
What agency/unit is mandated to conduct the investigation?
- Yes, placements with relatives are included in the policy. No special guidance is provided, however, for conducting investigations in relatives' homes.
Is there a team approach? Who is on the team?
- The County DFCS office. The investigation would be completed by: (1) an investigator from the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), or (2) a CPS case manager or supervisor from within the county who has not worked with the DFCS-approved caregivers, completed a placement evaluation of the home, or worked with children in the home; or (3) a CPS case manager from outside the county. It is not clear when SIU investigator rather than the CPS case manager would investigate.
- Law enforcement is involved in some investigations. It is not clear when this involvement occurs.
What are the key activities of agency staff?
- Joint investigations may be conducted by an investigator and a CPS case manager, but the policy does not state when this should occur. Joint investigations appear to be optional. Roles of different participants in the process are clearly defined.
- SIU, county, or out-of-county CPS case managers are responsible for CPS investigation.
- County directors or their designees are responsible for screening and assignment.
- County resource development/placement staff are responsible for foster care policy/discipline policy assessments and corrective action plans.
County director or designee:
- Makes screening decisions and assigns investigation to an investigator;
- Conducts a required staffing within 48 hours of completion of the investigation (as described in more detail in the decisionmaking discussion);
- Notifies DFCS/DHR placement and case management staff when a report is filed;
- Notifies agencies with oversight responsibility when a report concerns a private or other state agency home;
- Forwards to law enforcement all reports alleging child abuse and neglect;
- Reviews completed investigations and approves case disposition; and
- Requests removal policy waiver when appropriate (as described below).
SIU investigator as well as county or out-of-county CPS case manager assigned to conduct the primary investigation: The policy very clearly spells out a series of investigation tasks "at a minimum:"
- Ensure response times are met if investigator cannot meet them (county worker would go to the home and do a safety assessment);
- Make available to the investigator case files or other needed materials;
- Conduct all placement activities, including home evaluations, unless otherwise mutually agreed; and
- Participate in case consultation as needed.
Resource development/placement staff:
- Meets assigned response times (0-24 hours, as per Taylor v. Ledbetter Federal District Court consent decree);
- Evaluates safety of children and notifies CPS supervisor or county director (or private agency, other state agency) of any safety concerns;
- Removes any children who are in DFCS custody and are found to be in an unsafe situation. A formal safety assessment tool is used to make this initial determination;
- Conducts separate interviews with all children in the home, observing for signs of abuse or neglect;
- Interviews all DFCS-approved caregivers (or caregivers in homes of private or other state agencies) and other adults who are frequently in the home (no specific guidance for these interviews is given.);
- Conducts a home visit to observe conditions that may affect the safety and well-being of children in the home;
- Reviews CPS and placement histories, noting patterns of behavior, additional sources of information, and concerns expressed in prior investigations;
- Gathers evidence to support case documentation;
- Consults the supervisor or county director if children are determined not to be safe and immediately arranges for alternative placements;
- Maintains contact with county director or designee throughout the investigation;
- Testifies in court, if necessary;
- Reaches a case determination at the conclusion of the investigation;
- Completes the investigation report;
- Participates in all staffings, if requested;
- Refers any adoption or foster care policy/discipline infractions that surface during the investigation to resource development/placement staff for further assessment;
- Participates in a required staffing at the conclusion of the investigation; and
- Notifies the legal parents/legal guardians of children who are interviewed during the investigation.
What time frames are identified?
- Collaborate with the investigator.
- Assess policy/discipline or licensing issues.
- Develop a correction action plan when a policy/discipline or licensing issue is identified.
What decisionmaking processes are described?
- The only time frame specifically discussed in this policy was a requirement regarding initial visits to the foster home within 24 hours after the receipt of the report.
Is the CPS/licensing interface clear?
- In both types of investigations, the policy calls for a "required staffing" within 48 hours of the completion of the investigation. The county director/designee invites the following parties to the staffing: investigator, resident county CPS supervisor, resident county placement supervisor, children's case manager(s), resource development case manager, and the adoptive case manager and supervisor when the child is in preadoptive placement
- The purpose of the staffing is to review investigation results and to assess the need to remove children in DFCS/DHR custody from the home.
- If a child is placed in a private or other state agency home, then the private agency or state agency representatives are invited and are included in the meeting.
- If the investigation is substantiated, children are removed unless a policy waiver is requested and approved by the Social Services section director.
- Children in the home who are determined to be safe can remain in the home under a corrective action plan while the Social Services section director rules on the waiver request.
- Staffing outcomes are shared with DFCS-approved caregivers, all case managers, supervisory staff, and out-of-county DFCS staff involved with the DFCS-approved home who were not present at the staffing as well as with the children's birthparents or legal guardians, except when their rights have been terminated.
- An administrative review process adds an extra level of oversight. It is not clear whether the review process is conducted for all cases or just for cases with application for a policy waiver. The county director submits to the DFCS social services director an "administrative review" packet that includes key documentation of the investigation, the report, any corrective action plan, and a copy of the policy waiver.
What actions are taken regarding the reported child(ren) during the investigation?
- Yes. Resource development and placement staff are involved in the investigation from its outset. Their role is to address any licensing compliance issues.
- Reports that do not reach the level of a CPS investigation but do reflect violations of foster care/discipline policy are screened out and referred to county resource development/placement staff for assessment and possible correction action.
What actions are taken regarding other children in the home?
What actions are taken to protect the rights of foster parents throughout the process?
- The investigator conducts a safety assessment by using a formal agency safety assessment tool.
- Reported children are removed if they are found to be in unsafe conditions.
What supports are provided to foster parents throughout the process?
- The rights of the foster parents are not emphasized in the policy.
- More than one location notes that foster parents do not have access to fair hearings or administrative reviews of either the CPS findings or of removal of children as a result of the CPS findings.
- Foster parents are offered a corrective action plan if it is determined that children are safe in the home.
- Unless a policy waiver is approved by the agency director, if a report is substantiated, homes are closed to placements and children are removed.
- The policy makes clear that safety plans are not completed with foster families, because they are not clients. If a child is felt to be unsafe, the child is removed.
- No language in the policy addresses the need or responsibility to provide support to foster parents.
- Foster parents are offered a "corrective action plan."
This policy is one of the clearer and more detailed ones in terms of specific investigator activities. The policy is not clear, however, about how decisions are made as to when the SIU investigator handles the case vs. the county or out-of-county case managers. In either case, they are clearly avoiding having anyone with involvement (possible bias) be responsible for the investigation. The teamwork is not described as mandatory. The 48-hour hearing is a clear decisionmaking structure. No language describes supporting foster parents in the process. Perhaps because of the consent decree, the policy places greater emphasis on child safety. The automatic closing of a home and removal of children if there is a substantiation decision is a strong statement. A waiver process can be initiated by the county director, with approval needed from the DFCS Social Service director, if children are not to be removed. A clear, direct statement is made that safety plans are not completed with foster parents because they are not clients. If safety concerns occur, then the children are removed. Foster parents do not have the right to administrative review and fair hearings on decisions related to CPS investigations or related removals of children.
Taylor v. Ledbetter, U.S. District Court consent decree:
DFCS Foster Parent-Child Safety Agreement:
- This case prohibits corporal punishment.
- The case requires immediate investigation of all reports of abuse or neglect by a foster parent.
- Social workers report their concerns to a supervisor.
- The 48-hour staffing, described earlier, is mandated.
Discipline and Other Parenting Issues in Foster Care:
- This agreement, to be signed by foster parents, clearly details safety expectations related to animals, firearms, motor vehicles, supervision, water safety, and the DFCS discipline policy.
- This document for social work staff clearly delineates the discipline policy and steps to take when violations occur relating to this or other policies affecting the safety and well-being of children in DFCS custody.
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