Making and Screening Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect - Georgia

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Individual Responsibility to Report

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 19-7-5; 16-12-100

A mandated reporter who has reasonable cause to believe that suspected child abuse has occurred shall report or cause reports of that abuse to be made as provided in this section. An oral report by telephone or other oral communication or a written report by electronic submission or facsimile shall be made immediately and in no case later than 24 hours from the time there is reasonable cause to believe a child has been abused. Oral reports shall be followed by a later report in writing, if requested, to a child welfare agency providing protective services, as designated by the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) of the Department of Human Services, or, in the absence of such agency, to an appropriate police authority or district attorney. Such report shall be provided to military law enforcement, if applicable.

A person who, in the course of processing or producing visual or printed matter either privately or commercially, has reasonable cause to believe that the visual or printed matter submitted for processing or producing depicts a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct shall immediately report such incident, or cause a report to be made, to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation or the law enforcement agency for the county in which such matter is submitted.

Content of Reports

Citation: Ann. Code § 19-7-5

The report shall contain the following:

  • The names and addresses of the child and the child's parents or caregivers, if known
  • The child's age
  • The nature and extent of the child's injuries, including any evidence of previous injuries
  • Any other information that might be helpful in establishing the cause of the injuries and the identity of the perpetrator

Photographs of the child's injuries to be used as documentation in support of allegations by hospital employees or volunteers, physicians, law enforcement personnel, school officials, or employees or volunteers of legally mandated public or private child protective agencies may be taken without the permission of the child's parent or guardian. Such photographs shall be made available as soon as possible to the chief welfare agency providing protective services, the appropriate police authority, and military law enforcement.

Reporting Suspicious Deaths

This issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Reporting Substance-Exposed Infants

Citation: DFCS Child Welf. Pol. Man. § 3.7

The DFCS shall receive intake reports involving either of the following:

  • Reports that allege child maltreatment involving the caregiver's substance/alcohol use or abuse and the caregiver's ability to meet the needs of his or her children
  • Infants identified as being affected by substance abuse (illegal and/or legal) or withdrawal symptoms resulting from prenatal drug exposure or a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

All intakes involving prenatal exposure require the development of a plan of safe care.

Agency Receiving the Reports

Citation: Ann. Code § 19-7-5

The report shall be made to a child welfare agency providing protective services, as designated by DCFS or, in the absence of such agency, to an appropriate police authority or district attorney. The report shall be provided to military law enforcement, if applicable.

If a report of child abuse is made to the child welfare agency or independently discovered by the agency, and the agency has reasonable cause to believe the report is true or the report contains any allegation or evidence of child abuse, then the agency shall notify immediately the appropriate police authority or the district attorney and notify military law enforcement, if applicable.

For each child who is the subject of child abuse allegations, the child welfare agency shall make efforts as soon as practicable to determine whether a parent or guardian of such child is on active duty in the armed forces of the United States. If the agency determines that a parent or guardian of the child is on active duty in the armed forces, the agency shall notify the applicable military installation's family advocacy program of the allegation of child abuse that relates to the parent or guardian of the child.

Initial Screening Decisions

Citation: DFCS Child Welf. Pol. Man., §§ 3.1; 3.2

DCFS will review the intake assessment to determine whether the allegation of maltreatment contains the following three required components:

  • The alleged maltreater has a caregiving role.
  • The alleged victim is a child who is age 18 or younger and is not an emancipated minor.
  • The allegations of child abuse meet the State statutory definitions of child abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse.

Reports alleging sexual exploitation or sex trafficking do not require the alleged maltreater to be a caregiver.

The term 'person responsible for the care of a child' includes any of the following:

  • An adult member of a child's household
  • A person exercising supervision over a child for any part of the 24-hour day
  • Any adult who, based on his or her relationship to the parent, guardian, legal custodian, or a member of a child's household, has access to the child

DFCS shall thoroughly evaluate the areas of family functioning, analyze DFCS history, results of other types of screening, and assess all other information gathered to determine child safety and well-being and whether an allegation of child abuse (maltreatment) exists. This determination informs the decision to screen-in or screen-out the intake assessment.

Agency Conducting the Assessment/Investigation

Citation: DFCS Child Welf. Pol. Man., §§ 5; 5.1

As the designated child welfare agency in Georgia, the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) is legally mandated to investigate reports of known or suspected instances of child abuse and neglect, including physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or exploitation, or negligent treatment or maltreatment under circumstances that indicate that the child's health or welfare is threatened.

Law enforcement is the criminal investigative agency in the community and is often investigating the same allegation as DFCS. When this is the case, CPS and law enforcement must work as a team to coordinate investigative activities.

Assessment/Investigation Procedures

Citation: DFCS Child Welf. Pol. Man., § 5.1

The caseworker shall do the following:

  • Engage each household member, including the alleged child victim, each parent, all adult household members, other children in the home, and any alleged maltreater, face-to-face and privately to discuss the maltreatment allegations and assess child safety and family functioning
  • Inform the individual subject to a child abuse report of the allegations made against him or her at the time of initial contact
  • Conduct a visual assessment of all children to determine if any injuries or signs maltreatment exist
  • Observe the physical home environment, including every room in the home to determine if it is safe and appropriate to meet the needs of each child
  • Engage individuals identified as collateral contacts who can provide relevant information for assessing maltreatment allegations, child safety, and family functioning
  • Obtain, review, and analyze reports, professional evaluations and assessments, pictures, and other physical evidence gathered during the investigation
  • Request State criminal history record information of adult household members when criminal history may impact child safety

Joint investigations with law enforcement may be requested for all serious and/or complex reports of abuse or neglect, including, but not limited to, sexual abuse, severe physical abuse, serious injury, child death, near fatality, and/or chronic, severe neglect. A joint investigation may include the following:

  • Developing a plan to complete the investigation
  • Responding with law enforcement
  • Frequently and openly communicating to discuss the status of the case
  • Obtaining and sharing information in a timely manner

Timeframes for Completing Investigations

Citation: DFCS Child Welf. Pol. Man., §§ 3.2, 5.1

DFCS shall screen-in and assign intake reports to an initial safety assessment when the allegations reported meet the Georgia statute and DFCS policy requirements for child abuse (maltreatment). Cases are assigned for response within the following timeframes to ensure child safety and well-being:

  • Immediate: A present danger situation is indicated.
  • 24 hours: An impending danger safety threat is indicated and there is no indication of a present danger situation.
  • 72 hours: Child abuse (maltreatment) is indicated, however, there is no indication of a present danger situation or impending danger safety threat.

The investigation is completed within 45 calendar days of the date the report is received.

Classification of Reports

Citation: DFCS Child Welf. Pol. Man., § 5.3

The maltreatment determination considers whether the alleged child abuse is substantiated or unsubstantiated, as follows:

  • 'Substantiated' means the allegations of child abuse are supported by a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of evidence means that the greater the weight of the evidence makes it more probable than not that child abuse occurred. A substantiation determination also means harm to the child is severe enough to constitute maltreatment and there is sufficient evidence to support child maltreatment. When evidence supports maltreatment occurred, regardless of whether the identity of the maltreater is known or unknown the case determination must be substantiated.
  • 'Unsubstantiated' means the allegations of child abuse are not supported by a preponderance of the evidence. An unsubstantiated determination means harm to the child is not severe enough to constitute maltreatment and/or there is not sufficient evidence to support child maltreatment. Even though a maltreatment determination may be unsubstantiated, documentation may show a pattern of behavior that may be useful in decision making.

The investigator also must make a safety determination. The safety determination identifies the child as either safe or unsafe based on the safety assessment. The existence of maltreatment (substantiated or unsubstantiated) and a safety determination (safe or unsafe) are two separate determinations. A child may have been maltreated but could still be considered safe based on individual family circumstances and caregiver protective capacities.