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Your Views: Volunteers could help DFCS with heavy caseload
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Hall County is very fortunate to have two dedicated and outstanding Juvenile Court judges, Mary Carden and Cliff Jolliff. As a volunteer member of the Juvenile Court’s Citizen Review Committee and having worked with DFCS for several years, I couldn’t agree more with Judge Carden’s assessment of the potential neglect and disservice to our county’s foster children as a result of the severe staff cuts in our local DFCS office (Times article of Jan. 14).

The "team" involved in caring for foster children in Hall County, who can no longer live comfortably and safely in their homes due to any number of reasons primarily includes: the Juvenile Court system; Department of Family and Children Services; Court Appointed Special Advocates; and Citizen Review Committees.

Each organization has a specific role to play to ensure that children are safeguarded and returned to an appropriate and permanent home in the shortest possible time. Although there are sometimes different opinions, these entities cooperate and mesh very well with a common goal of protecting the child’s welfare.

When a child is discovered to be in an unsafe or unhealthy environment, the Juvenile Court will frequently assign temporary custody of the child to DFCS to develop a plan and take the necessary steps to remedy the situation. A CASA representative is assigned to the child to ensure that his or her interests are protected throughout the process. The CRC periodically reviews the case with all parties to ensure the plan continues to be appropriate to ensure no child falls through the cracks.

CASA and the CRC are staffed primarily with volunteers who receive extensive training and take an oath of confidentiality to ensure the family’s rights of privacy are not violated. DFCS, responsible for the development and ultimate delivery of the plan, must arrange for the myriad services necessary.

They perform these tasks with little or no volunteer assistance. As reported by Judge Carden, over the last 18 months, DFCS fell victim to statewide budget cuts, reducing staffing from 38 to seven. This resulted in individual case worker’s case loads increasing drastically.

Most case workers are dedicated to the welfare of children and work long into the night to satisfy all the needs of the increased number of children. It is clear additional money will not be available for some time, but volunteers are available now to assist with mundane, time-consuming tasks currently performed by case workers, allowing them more time for functions that require professional expertise

The issues of confidentiality, liability and work procedures preclude the use of this talented and willing volunteer force, which could go a long way in overcoming the impact of budget cuts. Other team members have solved the confidentiality issue with the signing of oaths and with a little creativity, the liability and procedural obstacles could be eliminated as well.

Let’s find a way to introduce volunteers into the DFCS process and create ways to get around the liability issues and create work procedures that allow for an expedited process.

We should no longer allow budget cuts to make a child’s misfortune even worse.

Bob Kelly
Citizen’s Review Committee Member, Hall County Juvenile Court, Gainesville

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