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Georgia Division of Family and Children Services Troubling Policy of Diversion

In 2005, the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) instituted a policy called "Diversion" under the leadership of then DHR Commissioner B.J. Walker. Diversion was hailed as an alternative response model under which a certain number of cases reported to DFCS would be "diverted" to receive social services rather than have a traditional case opened by DFCS.

Unfortunately for the children involved in these reports, DFCS failed to establish statewide criteria for when a case qualified for Diversion. Instead, such decisions were left up to local DFCS offices. Other important components of this "differential response model," as used in other states, were also left out of Georgia's Diversion policy.

Within the very first year of the program, the State Child Advocate began asking for statewide guidelines and criteria for the Diversion policy. Indeed, a total of four Child Advocates have called on DFCS to adopt such guidelines from 2005 to 2011.

Instead of heeding this legal advice, GA DFCS continued to sing the praises of its Diversion policy because it resulted in the appearance of a "decrease" in the number of open abuse and neglect cases across Georgia. By State Fiscal Year 2010, 49.42 percent of all statewide reports to DFCS were handled under the Diversion policy.

Georgia's Diversion policy has not been the success the numbers might indicate. After all, there are children behind these numbers. And we know that a number of children have died after their cases were "diverted."

The most recent victim is 16-year-old Markea Berry, a Cobb County teenager who died of starvation at the hands of her mother on June 15, 2012. Cobb County DFCS was aware of Markea's situation in 2010 when she ran away from home. Instead of removing Markea from her home, Cobb DFCS told her mother to take Markea to a doctor and closed the case without further action. Current Division Director, Ron Scroggy, (who was not with DFCS in 2010) has admitted that the case was improperly handled through Diversion. To read new's coverage of the Markea Berry case, visit the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Markea is not alone. Before her, there was six-year-old Bryan Moreno in Forsyth County, who died in 2009. And a 6-month-old Chatham County boy died on January 27, 2011. And three-year-old Justin Walker of Troup County died on January 28, 2011. Each child was failed by Diversion. These are just the children who made the newspapers. Imagine how many more chidren have suffered needlessly from abuse or deprivation because their cases were diverted improperly?

Under Ron Scroggy, GA DFCS has begun to address the problems inherent in its Diversion policy. The new policy is called "Differential Response" and the "Statewide Interim Differential Response Protocol" issued on February 17, 2012, takes some promising first steps. But it has to be more than a name change. Georgia's most vulnerable children deserve better.

Links to documents about "Differential Response" from GA DFCS:

Social Services County Letter No. 2011-09 issued February 12, 2012.

Georgia's Differential Response Child Welfare Model dated June 12, 2012.

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