Pike County Times
The Pike County Times, PO Box 843, Zebulon, Georgia 30295. Click here to donate through PayPal. Becky Watts: Phone # 770-468-7583 editor@pikecountytimes.com
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This online news website is owned and operated by Becky Watts. The Editor can be reached at 770-468-7583 or at editor(at)PikeCountyTimes(dot)com. Pike County Times is a website for citizens to keep up with local events and stay informed about Pike County government. It began on November 13, 2006 as a watchdog on county government and has turned into an online newspaper.

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Pike County DFACS Holds Monthly Meeting
By Editor Becky Watts

ZEBULON - Department of Family And Children's Services (DFACS) held its regular monthly meeting on January 22, 2013. This is the first meeting that has been held since Edd Sanders, Chairman of the DFACS Board, tried to tender his resignation to the Board of Commissioners and they voted to reject Chairman Sanders' letter of resignation if he will remain on the board and the Board of Commissioners support the DFACS Board. Click here and scroll down to section 5a. to read about the concerns that Mr. Sanders brought before the commissioners about the management and the day to day operations in the DFACS office and the level of customer service that is provided to our community as well as his plea to commissioners to empower the DFACS Board to help bring the agency's Pike County operation "into compliance with the mission of the Department of Human Services and the expectations of you Commissioners and the other citizens of this county."

True to their word, three commissioners came to this meeting: Commissioners James Jenkins and Carol Bass and Chairman Briar Johnson as well as County Manager Mike Phillips. There were four members of the DFACS Board--Chairman Edd Sanders and members Patricia Beckham, Sue Linn, and Joy Walker (Mike Powell was absent due to extenuating circumstances), DFACS Regional Director Lon Roberts, Pike County DFACS Director LaResa Price, Special Assistant Attorney General Tammy Griner, and many concerned citizens. The room in which we met was full and apparently is not a normal occurrence even though meetings are open to the public. Future meetings will be held on the last Tuesday of the month at 5 p.m. in the DFACS office. In addition to the room being so full that they were bringing in extra chairs, it was also an hour long which is unprecedented.

Chairman Sanders opened the meeting by thanking the officials and public for attending this meeting and personally asked interested citizens "to assist in making this the best possible agency that the county has with the primary goal of protection and services for the citizens in this county." Pike DFACS Director LaResa Price passed out copies of the annual report to all who were in attendance in the meeting and reminded everyone that DFACS is using past funds to operate this year.

Director Price explained that there were 12 children in foster care at the beginning of November with 4 cases being opened in November and 1 was closed. December started out with 15 children in foster care with 1 case being opened during the month ending with 16 in foster care at the end of December. She explained to those in attendance about the duties of Pike County DFACS with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) which is a federal and state financial program that provides monthly money payments based on financial need and the presence of children in the home (this program is limited to a life-time limit of 48 months of cash assistance with a requirement that recipients participate in employment services); Medicaid which provides payment for medical care to TANF recipients, Social Security recipients, eligible nursing home patients, recipients of the Right from the Start (RSM) program which covers children and pregnant women, eligible adults under the programs for aged, blind or disabled, and adults and children who qualify under certain medically needy programs; Food Stamps which is a program that helps to raise the level of nutrition among low income families; Childcare and Parent program which supports eligible families by providing subsidized care of children according to specific guidelines; Child Protective Services which investigates feasible complaints of child abuse and neglect as well as providing ongoing supervision to families found to be abusive or neglectful and Placement in custody and Foster Care Services. The DFACS yearly report lists the numbers of recipients and cases and the amount of funds expended in each category. This information is public record.

Pike County is part of an 11 county region where many of the interviews, etc. are taking place over the phone and computer in a seamless transition to the customer. This enables much of the caseload to be disseminated equally throughout the region though people can still walk into the office here in Pike County and childcare in Pike County is specific to this DFACS office. Director Price advised that Pike County DFACS worked 3,749 cases in December.

A question was asked about the schooling that is required for DFACS investigators. Director Price advised that there is state training--both in house and out of county--that is required for certification. Member Joy Walker said that she had heard several commissioners say that they have not been receiving timely communication from the DFACS office and asked what has been done to resolve this problem. Director Price advised that there is a system in place to respond to complaints by email and phone but said that she hasn't received any complaints of late. She said that there have been meetings with staff to emphasize the importance of responding to calls in a timely manner. Member Walker asked about whether there was a checklist to ensure response in a timely manner. Director Price advised that there is not at this time, but that they could look into this.

Member Patricia Beckham said that she had read the Foster Parent's Bill of Rights provided from an earlier meeting that is a part of Georgia State Law. She said that it was very informative and that if they adhered to those rights there shouldn't be any problems. Member Sue Linn expressed a similar appreciation for the Foster Parent's Bill of Rights.

Director Price went back to Member Walker's concern and said that if there is a complaint or a concern, she wants to know about it so it can be addressed. She advised that DFACS is bound by policies and procedures but she wants to be sure that complaints are addressed. There have been changes within the office to address some areas that needed it including the addition of a Resource Developer which was an area that the agency has been weak in. She said that she would be happy to field any complaints or concerns from anyone in the agency.

Commissioner James Jenkins said that appreciates the work that DFACS does. He said that there had been some problems with communication through DFACS over the past several years and with reimbursement on a child that was adopted in their family. Director Price said that the agency was without a Resource Developer for a long time but asked to get his information so that she could put him in touch with Resource Developer Andrea Wolverton in order to resolve this matter. "Y'all blessed us with a wonderful child," he said.

Update 1.30.13:

Mr. Randall Moss spoke to DFACS board members about problems that he has had over the past 1 1/2 years. He said that the Judge ruled in favor of DFACS in a case involving his grandchild but showed members a thick file and said that he was denied defense like a jury trial twice. He said that he can prove that statements made against him and his daughter are false. "I understand that there are people here who might be able to help reach out is why I am addressing this," he said. Chairman Sanders asked if there was a possibility of confidentiality issues because there is still some issues pending in the court, but he allowed Mr. Moss to continue until Mr. Moss began to make accusations specifically against SAAG Tammy Griner. Chairman Sanders advised that he could not allow Mr. Moss to turn this meeting into Juvenile Court. He said that DFACS is the only one that doesn't have an Ombudsman (to investigate complaints) and that he isn't going away and that they are going to get one. Chairman Sanders ended the public comment by saying that he couldn't allow this to become a personal attack on anyone there and that there is a limit of five minutes for each person to speak and that he had received that five minutes. Mr. Moss apologized, picked up his file, and left the meeting. Click here to read from the 1.29.13 Pike County Commission meeting where Mr. Moss spoke.

During the course of discussion in New Business, it was determined that the DFACS annual report for 2012 was due by December 31st and that it had been delivered to the Commission office by County Manager Mike Phillips. Chairman Sanders asked that DFACS minutes from meetings be sent to the commissioners in a timely fashion rather than in bulk at the end of the year. Director Price advised that there was a breakdown after County Clerk Teresa Watson was no longer the County Clerk. She asked if email would be acceptable and said that she would make sure the minutes were delivered timely. There was also discussion about putting together an ad hoc committee of interested citizens to help the DFACS agency help the people in Pike County. Director Price advised that she had spoken to Legal Services about this and they advised that this couldn't be a formal committee because of current statutes but this could be an informal committee because the meetings are open to the public. Chairman Sanders encouraged those in attendance to attend future DFACS meetings and to continue to be involved. Discussion about minutes ended with the suggestion that minutes be emailed to members within 10 business days of meetings so they can read them before each meeting.

The Board asked for information about the article in the Pike Journal Reporter which referenced an investigation of Pike DFACS by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations. Pike County DFACS' Special Assistant Attorney General Tammy Griner advised that this matter can be discussed in the meeting and gave a status report to board members. She advised that Mr. Moss who had spoken earlier in the meeting had a case that was adjudicated in Juvenile Court and he has filed a complaint with the Pike County Sheriff's Office that DFACS has kidnapped his granddaughter. That complaint was then sent to the GBI because DFACS is a state agency. She advised that the GBI Special Agent in Charge of our area who indicated that because this is a state agency it has been sent to the Inspector General who will review it and it will be sent to the Clyde Reese who is the Commissioner for the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS). A decision will be made whether to do a criminal investigation or whether it ends there. She said that it should not take too long to get a decision on this because it is following a required process.

Commissioner James Jenkins thanked Chairman Edd Sanders for remaining with the DFACS Board and said thank you to DFACS Board Members for what they are doing as a board. He said that it's all about the children. Chairman Sanders commended Commissioner Jenkins and his wife for being foster parents. Board of Commissioners Chairman Briar Johnson said that he doesn't know that people realize what investigators go through and that it's a tough job to do. Lois McDaniel has been a Family Independence Case Manager and works in the Office of Family Independence processing food stamps and Medicaid. She said that it is nice to see people from the community who are interested in what they do. She said that the article in the newspaper shed a negative shadow over the agency and that she was sorry for that. She said that she lives in this county, pays taxes in this county and works in this county and said that she was offended by the article in the newspaper "insinuating in a blanket statement that we don't do our jobs here". She said that they work very hard for families and children in this county and in our region. "I don't know anyone who works in this office that does not care about their job. To do the work that we do and put up with some of the clients that we put up with, if you don't care about your job, you couldn't stay here and work." She wanted to present a positive on the negative that has been put out in the community and said that she hopes that those present will continue to attend meetings when there is not something negative about the agency because they do good work there at DFACS and are doing everything they can to serve families and children.

Mr. Mitch Turner, a 30 year DFACS worker, attended the meeting because of the article in the paper and told Ms. McDaniel that he appreciates what she does. He said that wasn't happy with the article and he wanted to know what the problem was. "I haven't heard that here today. That doesn't say that there aren't some issues here that need to be addressed, but I'm impressed with what I've heard," he said. Ms. McDaniel thanked him and told the room that she has policies and procedures to follow and that sometimes people get very mad when she has to go by those rules. Director LaResa Price said that Ms. McDaniel was speaking for a lot of the staff there because many of them took the article to heart and that there has been some impact with clients mentioning the investigation to their case workers in a negative way. "I have good staff... We have not been perfect and we have had some staff changes recently and we have new staff on board. I am very confident in this agency and in the staff that I have. We are moving forward and I really think that there are good things to come," she said. Director Price asked that community members and board members please call her when they hear complaints. She said that some things can't be fixed because of policies and procedures and laws but she is committed to doing what she can on this.

Chairman Sanders asked about the long process that it sometimes takes "to get rid of a bad apple" in the agency. Regional Director Lon Roberts addressed this question. He said that the DFACS is a social services agency which is is an agency of redemption works with families to correct problems and it does the same internally as it does with the public as a way to redeem people. He said that there is no perfect people and that this isn't a perfect manual to follow for social services. He explained that they work closely with the Office of Human Resources and Development and explained the long sometimes bureaucratic exercise that it takes to separate someone from their position including the number of levels that must be contacted in order to gain approval on a situation like this. "We can argue if it's right or wrong, but that's just the way it is," he said. He also explained that there has been a hiring freeze across the state that might have resulted in holding onto some people a little too long because there was no opportunity to hire anyone else. He said that there have been some new hires in Pike and Upson Counties and was optimistic about their potential. He said that they are being more proactive now and not just reactive. He commended Pike Director Price by saying, "Resa is very committed to the success of Pike County." He said that she is often out doing front line work and that is not the norm in the very difficult job that she holds. He also commended the DFACS Board for their work and said that some boards often don't have a forum so he was impressed with them and their work as well as the presence of community members and county commissioners. He said that he hasn't seen this level of commitment from the community in other places. "We're in this together," he said of DFACS and the County Commission and the citizens. "I appreciate your [the County Commission's] investment in us. And we want to be good stewards of the money and seek a good return on it." Chairman Sanders said that he believed in redemption as well but said that there is a difference between a mistake and disobedience and wanted to see that those who were disobedient be expedited in being removed from their position because people's lives and the quality of their lives depend on these workers and the wrong person doesn't need to be in a position at DFACS.

Commissioner Carol Bass said that she recommended that the Board of Commissioners not accept Chairman Sanders resignation and she would do that again because Chairman Sanders has worked so hard for DFACS as far as getting computers in the library for them. She said that she did bring up the minutes of the meetings and that she is a stickler for all offices following the ordinances of the county with this. She said that the county and the staff in the Commission office have worked real hard to do some things that we have never done before like a county-wide inventory and praised the county manager and his staff for this. She said this to explain to the DFACS Board that they were not singled out on the issue of minutes but it needs to be done.

I told the DFACS Board and Director Price that I had received a call from a family member about a DFACS case because of my write up on the County Commission meeting when Board Chairman Sanders offered his resignation and it was not accepted. Director Price asked me to send that contact information along to her so she could make contact with them. I was advised by phone today that she has done this.

The Board then set their normal meeting night for the 4th Tuesday of each month at 5 p.m. These meetings are open to the public. The meeting was adjourned shortly after 6 p.m.