The effectiveness of those federal reviews and the wisdom of penalizing cash-strapped child welfare agencies has been a matter of debate among experts in the field. That issue remerged in September when two child protection workers were arrested and accused of manipulating data so it would appear they were meeting internal guidelines related to the federal review process.
State child protection agencies are heavily funded by the U.S. government. Started around 2000, the U.S. Administration for Children and Families began reviewing state-run programs to determine how they were serving children. Prior reviews focused largely on whether federal money was spent correctly.
Penalties from that process have cost child welfare agencies nearly $11 million and counting in Georgia, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Washington, D.C., according to ACF spokesman Kenneth Wolfe. Sanctions against South Carolina and Rhode Island are ongoing, while the penalties against the other states have ended. The penalties are relatively small compared to overall agency budgets, but they still sting.
The budget for Georgia’s child protection system fell from $487 million in 2008 before the recession to $395 million now, a cut of roughly 18 percent, according to estimates compiled by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
“In these economic times, it’s probably not achieving what it was originally desired to achieve,” said Alberta Ellett, a professor studying social work at the University of Georgia, who described the process as well-intentioned though problematic.
The reviews follow the same format in each state. During Georgia’s last exam in 2007, a team reviewed a state self-assessment and statewide data then reviewed 65 case files on children in three counties, including metro Atlanta. They also interviewed children, parents, foster parents, child welfare workers and other people with