By Ed Brock
Every law enforcement agency in Clayton County, judges, prosecutors, educators and other agencies have made an agreement on how to handle child deprivation cases.
At a special ceremony in the Clayton County Police Department Headquarters the members of the Cooperative Agreement on the Handling of Certain Deprivation Cases committee gathered to make the agreement official. The purpose of the agreement, said Clayton County Judge Steve Teske who helped create the agreement, is to minimize the number of children in foster care and to safely reunite families in trouble.
"Children who are unnecessarily placed in foster care act out when they know they could be in a family setting," Teske said.
The agreement would accomplish its goals by ensuring families in crisis get services as soon as possible, strengthen a family's decision making process and support agencies in the community that can partner with law enforcement.
More specifically, the agreement gives police officers and the courts more options in dealing with some cases of child welfare without arresting the parents.
"The reunification process cannot take place if the parent is arrested," said Clayton County Solicitor General Leslie Miller Terry.
Under the agreement the Department of Family and Children Services would provide 24-hour assistance to police in finding a relative who can care for the child if the parents do have to go to jail. Rainbow House children's shelter will give the children a temporary place to stay while the relatives are in transit, and Clayton County Juvenile Court will provide approval for relative placement pending a preliminary hearing.
Right now there are between 400 and 500 children in foster care in Clayton County, said Cathy Ratti, director of Clayton County DFCS. That's very bad, Ratti said, especially if the children stay in foster care for extended periods.
"Research indicates that a lot of children who enter the foster care system get stuck there and their outcomes are very bad," Ratti said.
Signing the agreement is only the first step, Juvenile Court Chief Judge K. Van Banke said.
"Signing the document is the equivalent of a roll out of a new model automobile line," Banke said. "Unless you believe in the document, unless you truly want to work with it, then it's like not putting gas in that car. It's not going to run."