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Child abuse an ongoing problem in Lamar

By Kay S. Pedrotti Child abuse doesn’t stop after the public awareness campaigns end in April or other times. It’s a continuing problem in Lamar County, says U’landa Barkley, director of the local Department of Family and Children Services. The agency’s success rate at permanency for maltreated children ‘“ 73% for 2103 ‘“ is higher than the average rate in the state of Georgia, 64%. Permanency means the child has a DFCSsupervised safe home, reunified with parent or parents or other qualified relatives, placed in ongoing foster care or adopted. At present, there are 34 children in legal custody of DFCS, all under 12 years old, Barkley said. Local case managers are working on a program for young teens who age out of DFCS care at 18 to help provide them with educational and job services and affordable places to live, she added. The county’s child maltreatment data, as gathered in the DFCS Child Welfare in Georgia 2013 report, was obtained by The Herald Gazette from Julia Neighbors, director, and the staff at Prevent Child Abuse Georgia. Last year, 105 children here were involved in child protective service investigations for physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect or other issues requiring agency intervention. Of these 63 were white, 38 black and three multi-racial; there were 54 males and 51 females. The huge majority investigated were under 12 years old, 95 of the 105; 10 were ages 13 to 17. The largest age category was 4-6 years old at 24 children. Of the children out of the 105 who wound up in DFCS custody for any reason, 46 remained in care less than a year; two who were adopted had been in care for four years. At the start of 2013, local DFCS had 26 children in its custody; 36 entered care and 33 exited care during the year. At the end of the year there were 29 children under DFCS custody. The largest number placed, 37, went to live in nonrelative foster homes followed by 16 in foster homes with relatives; 27 were reunited with their birth families. Barkley says the most prevalent contributors to child maltreatment are substance abuse, poverty and lack of education. DFCS agencies have begun a ‘kinder approach’ to child protection, she said, ‘Finally looking at the paternal side of the family for appropriate caregivers ‘“ that didn’t happen when I started in this work 25 years ago.’ The emphasis now is on treating the whole family, helping parents learn from mistakes and children in overcoming damages and fear. Of the 2013 cases, 18 were closed as unsubstantiated. State figures show most bogus child abuse claims come from parents in custody battles, not from false accusations by children. ’There are still too many children here who need help from us,’ Barkley said. ‘It has to be a community effort to raise economic and educational levels. We’re so grateful to be working with the Lamar County Family Connection Collaborative. Many organizations are now working together to solve all these problems, even when we have to do it one child at a time. Nothing is more gratifying than to see children grow up safe, happy and healthy. It should be that way for every child. That’s our goal.’

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