I-TEAM: After several high profile cases involving children, is there a problem with Columbia County DFCS?

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Thursday, March 5, 2020
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

DFCS Director Tom Rawlings became director last year. We asked him about several high profile Columbia County cases. (Source: WRDW)

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- Young brothers suffered years of child molestation at the hands of their mother.

An I-Team investigation uncovered over a dozen warnings signs and complaints but the Division of Family and Children Services did not remove the children from the home.

“There was so much family trauma,” District Attorney Natalie Paine said.

It was a case impossible to forget for Paine.

“There was lots of sexual abuse that was going on in the room – allegations the kids were having sex with their mom,” Paine said.

Paine prosecuted the mother of the boys. She pleaded to lesser charges and is now serving a 20-year sentence for child molestation.

Columbia County teachers documented everything. They sent 15 reports to DFCS voicing their concerns and sharing graphic details.

"There were a number of complaints that were made, but for whatever reason one way or another, the cases continually been closed DFCS,” Paine said.

DFCS dismissed teachers concerns. In this response to the school, a case worker wrote, "[T]he mother functions at a lower cognitive level than the average person; however, I have not found that those mental limitations significantly impact the safety and well-being of the children."

Teachers continued sending reports to DFCS for three more years until a frustrated school counselor eventually called law enforcement herself.

Tom Rawlings became director of DFCS last year. We spoke to him about the case.

“The situation finally came to light,” Rawlings said. “The courts got involved and the mother was convicted.”

“But it may never have come to light if the teachers hadn’t reached out to law enforcement themselves,” we responded.

“And that’s why we need to be very grateful for teachers who have been persistent,” Rawlings said.

“But shouldn’t that been the case worker’s job to do that?” we asked.

“Well, let’s say in any given case we want our case workers to be responsive,” Rawlings said.

Shouldn’t it have been the case worker’s duty to contact law enforcement?

“Yes, so I can tell you in general, we’re proactive when we have an allegation of sexual abuse,” Rawlings said.

But that did not happen in this case. The Columbia County Sheriff's Office says they never received a call from DFCS.

There were 15 detailed referrals from teachers over the course of several years. How was that missed?

“Without getting into all the details with what did or did not happen,” Rawlings said. “I unfortunately am barred by law from talking about it.”

Rawlings did talk to us about another more recent DFCS case last year. Columbia County child Lincoln Davitte died last spring. Charles Sconyers, his mother's boyfriend, is charged with his murder. A previous I-Team investigation found daycare workers contacted DFCS before his death with concerns about his safety.

We asked Rawlings if there was a problem in Columbia County.

“Not that I am aware of,” Rawlings said.

Abuse or neglect contributed to the deaths of 35 children across the state in 2018. All had a history with DFCS before they died.

“Unfortunately, this happens more often than I like to see,” DA Paine said. “Kids kind of fall in between the cracks."

So how did a family like this fall through the cracks?

"Well again I think whatever happened in this case I think we need to sit here and see what have we done to improve the system,” Rawlings said. “What are we doing to improve the system?"

Meanwhile for some of the young and innocent relying on those on the front line, improving the DFCS system hasn't come soon enough.

The case worker assigned to the brothers has since transferred to another state agency. She was not disciplined in that case, but did get a letter of reprimand for not following up with four other families assigned to her.

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