ATLANTA - Georgia's child protection workers are failing to immediately file reports of suspected child abuse into a statewide tracking system, according to a recent audit.
Entering those intake reports into the computer system used by the Division of Family and Children Services is an important task because it starts the clock ticking on the agency's outreach to children who may be abused. Once a report is created, caseworkers are assigned to quickly visit the child.
The findings comes after two DFCS supervisors in Columbus were arrested last year and accused of manipulating or destroying initial child abuse reports so it would appear workers were meeting agency rules. While the audit did not uncover any criminal conduct, it does raise questions about how the agency tracks child abuse cases.
DFCS policy requires that reports of child abuse be immediately entered into its computer system. But during the year ending in June 2011, 77 percent of all reports were not electronically filed on the day they were received, according to the audit. That translates into 46,070 of the 60,207 reports received during that timeframe.
Of the total reports, 31 percent were not entered until five or more days after the complaint was received.
" ... Overall we found that the system was built as designed without significant cost overruns," the audit said. "However, our review found that stronger controls are needed to ensure data integrity."
The audit does not make clear why reports were so often filed late, although DFCS child protection workers have historically faced difficulties juggling large caseloads. Surveys conducted as part of the audit suggested that workers may have difficulty logging onto the system from outside the office while making visits.
The review noted that not all case managers have electronics providing Internet access for their laptops and electronic tablets.
Agency officials agree that better controls could improve the accuracy of its data, said Clyde Reese III, the commissioner of Georgia's Department of Human Services. Reese said in a letter to auditors that DFCS workers sometimes visit children first in the interest of safety and write reports later.
"The safety of children is our greatest concern, therefore, if we receive a phone call indicating that a child may be unsafe, we would opt to make the home visit as soon as possible" even if it means writing the report after the visit, he said.
Reese said the department has assigned data integrity specialists to each of its regions and selects a random sample of cases each month to check for accuracy.
The audit was requested by lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee. Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, who heads the Human Resources Subcommittee, said she planned to discuss the findings with child welfare officials when considering the agency's budget.
"As anything that our state government is paying for, we want to make sure it's being used effectively," Dempsey said.