April is Child Abuse Prevention Month in Georgia, as proclaimed by Gov. Nathan Deal. Child abuse is a subject I don't like to think about, let alone write about and you would probably just as soon not hear about. But it is there and we need to acknowledge it and demand some solutions.
Sadly, child abuse is not confined to Georgia. The child advocacy group Child Help says there are more than 3 million reports of child abuse in the U.S. every year and between four and seven children die daily due to abuse and neglect. That would be a shameful number in a Third World country. It is simply staggering in a supposedly civilized society, which we claim to be.
According to the Federal National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, Georgia had 77 child deaths related to abuse or neglect in 2010 and 65 in 2011 (a reporting period covering October to the following September.) There may have been more. These are just the ones reported to the state Division of Family and Children Services.
Speaking of DFCS, that agency has borne the brunt of the criticism for the way it has dealt with children's wellbeing. According to an Atlanta newspaper investigation, 152 children died despite the intervention of DFCS in 2012. One grossly-mishandled DFCS case was that of 10-year-old Emani Moss, of Gwinnett County, who was starved to death, burned and dumped in a trash can this past November by her so-called parents.
Child abuse and neglect are beginning to get the attention of our state leaders. Deal said he will add $27 million over the next three years to DFCS to hire more than 500 new caseworkers and supervisors and to make up for some of the agency's budget cuts during the economic downturn of recent years. The governor has also created a council of experts from advocacy groups and government to review DFCS and to recommend suggested reforms and possible legislative solutions.
The legislature took a stab at the problem this past session with a push to privatize Georgia's foster care system, much to the discomfort of some knowledgeable professionals who thought the effort too hasty. Melissa Carter, executive director of Emory University's Barton Child Law and Policy Center told me this is an area that requires much careful study before taking such a dramatic step.
Privatization is good in theory and may even be a good solution for taking care of our children in need, but let's think the matter thoroughly and deliberately. These are vulnerable children we are discussing here. Let's do it right.
And let's be careful that there is not some special interest group pushing this effort that is more interested in promoting a particular political philosophy - privatizing government services - than in looking out for the ultimate welfare of our children. The way proponents tried to rush the legislation through the last session makes me wonder.
Even if legislation had passed, the investigation of child abuse claims would still be left in the hands of DFCS and with the public lacking sufficient information on child deaths in Georgia. As I reported earlier, Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, sponsored legislation to take the review of children's deaths away from the Georgia Office of the Child Advocate and put it under the supervision of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, where it should be and to make more information on the subject available to the public. Kudos to Mr. Coomer and his colleagues for that effort.
But more needs to be done and we should let our legislators know that next year we want to see child abuse and neglect a priority. Our legislature has shown us it can pass a bill nobody but a narrow special interest group wanted that allows guns in churches and bars with no way of knowing whether the gun toter has a license to do so or not and - my favorite - allows silencers on our hunting rifles. (What's next? Cowbells on the deer?)
So now that we are sufficiently locked-and-loaded, maybe we can get to more substantive issues, like taking better care of neglected and abused children in Georgia.
On another subject: I identified the Republican public school teacher/legislator from Valdosta who pressed Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, about what was wrong with Common Core standards - a simple question he couldn't answer - as Amy Grant. She is Amy Carter. I know better. My apologies.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at email@example.com; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.