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Justice for children focus of summit
Officials review stats, processes
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Forsyth County News

Child welfare workers, school officials, attorneys and foster parents gathered Friday to discuss ways to improve handling the cases of abused and neglected children.

Local Juvenile Court Judge J. Russell Jackson led the event, known as the Forsyth County Justice for Children Summit.

It was sponsored by the Georgia Supreme Court’s Committee on Justice for Children, in partnership with the state Office of the Child Advocate and the Division of Family and Children Services, or DFCS.

The group met at the Coal Mountain Community Park Building where they spent the day covering various topics including child welfare statistics, the process of finding permanent homes for children who have been removed from their houses, strengths and challenges.

Christopher Church, a staff member with the Supreme Court's committee, presented information from the Child and Family Services Review, a national study conducted by the federal government.

The review includes data from the Adoption and Foster care Analysis Reporting System and the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System.

“This is what the feds are using to look at our state and measure our state and say how Georgia is doing,” he said.

Church presented statistics showing that from April 2008 to March 2009, 39 children in the Bell-Forsyth circuit were placed in foster care.

The numbers also showed that of those children, 35 were removed from their homes because of neglect. Other factors in removal included physical abuse and inadequate housing.

Church said the numbers can be compared with those of other counties as well as on a regional level.

He also presented information on investigations of maltreatment from January 2000 to December 2008.

“The circuit here investigates six children [for maltreatment] per 10,000 in the population per month,” Church said.

Statewide, that average is 15.4 children per 10,000 a month.

In 2008, 4.2 percent of the local circuit’s 170 victims of maltreatment were re-victimized within six months. Statewide, 2.3 percent of children are re-victimized in the same time period.

Edward Washington, a representative of the Georgia EmpowerMEnt Group, gave a video presentation showing the perspective of a child in foster care. The oldest of 14 siblings, Washington said he grew up in the foster system.

The video encouraged child welfare workers to include children in the decisions on their cases. The video also urged caseworkers to get to know the children with whom they are working and keep them informed about their situations.

DFCS drew local attention in July following the beating death of a 6-year-old special needs child at whose Valley Lane home it had investigated at least four reports of abuse.

Authorities said the boy was beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend.

The boy’s 11-year-old half-brother filed a report in January saying he was afraid to go to his mother’s house because of fighting between her and her boyfriend.

Another report had been filed in September 2008, indicating that the 6-year-old had a large bruise on his thigh that was apparently caused by a hand, though officials said abuse could not be verified.