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I-TEAM: Budget cuts to child/family services could hurt in more ways than one

Jasmine Camp
Jasmine Camp(WRDW)
Published: Jun. 10, 2020 at 4:41 PM EDT
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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- A case of child abuse that left an Augusta 12-year-old dead highlights the need for child and family support services, before tragedies like this can hit but the pandemic is bringing drastic cuts to those very programs aimed to save children.

June is National Children's Awareness Month -- a critical reminder as more children than ever are in homes where parents are stressed to the max from the COVID-19 crisis and economic fallout.

And children are tucked away from mandatory reporters like teachers and counselors.

Our I-TEAM uncovered new proposed cuts that will drastically slash funding for services aimed at saving Georgia’s youngest and most vulnerable.

What investigators say happened behind closed doors at an Augusta home this weekend has left our community heartbroken. Derrick Camp, just 12-years-old, had been beaten so badly. He died from his injuries.

His own mother, Jasmine Camp, told investigators Derrick fell out of a bunk bed and got a head injury after she admitted to punishing him for finding an inappropriate picture on his cell phone.

According to the arrest warrant, this was “child abuse and murder.”

Derrick was struck "multiple times with an extension cord all over his body, slammed into the wall at least twice causing his head to hit a wall, slammed into a corner of a door frame by his hair and kicked in the chest twice."

This is after the mother admits she made him do military-type squats against a wall until he collapsed.

The coroner's office cited a head injury and past injuries that were healing at his time of death.

“When I saw that story I thought in my mind not again, not again,” Dr. John DeGarmo of Foster Care Institute, said.

DeGarmo is a foster parent himself and makes it his life's work to teach others how to help our most vulnerable.

“This family, this mother, obviously needed the support she was not getting to help her child. And because she was not getting the support, because she was not getting the resources, we have a tragedy here. And unfortunately, these tragedies happen across the state far too many times,” Dr. DeGarmo said.

DeGarmo is sounding the alarm on proposed drastic funding cuts to the Georgia Department of Human Services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Next week, lawmakers will be back in session and have only three weeks to pass a new budget with slashes mandated by Governor Brian Kemp due to a staggering loss in state revenue.

The I-TEAM combed through the Department of Human Services proposal and found critical child care services will be axed including nearly a million dollars slashed from the child abuse registry, half a million axed for court-appointed special advocates and closure of 50 DFACS offices statewide.

Adoption emergency assistance will also be cut nearly a half million. Foster care cuts are proposed to recruit new foster families, field service training, and overall financial support for foster families.

Nearly $20 million slashed due to employee furloughs. Critical staffers on the front lines of saving children, who were already saying they were overworked before the pandemic began.

“What will these cuts do to families? To kids?” Liz Owens, I-TEAM reporter, asked.

“These cuts are going to be so drastic. These cuts are going to be so, so detrimental in so many areas,” DeGarmo said. “During COVID-19, we have already seen a rise in child abuse because children are staying home right now and parents are feeling a rise in anxiety.”

Dr. DeGarmo stresses Georgia's foster care system was already stretched to the max due to the ongoing opioid crisis in the state. He thinks the pandemic and further cuts to critical child services could be a breaking point.

“I think one of the worst cuts is going to be the recruitment for foster parents,” DeGarmo said. “When we cut the recruiting of new foster parents, yet we have more children flood into the system and we don't have enough foster parents, how do we meet that need?

A need that grows by the day.

Nationally:

- 5 Million children experience domestic violence in their homes.

- 5 children die each day from abuse.

-78 percent of all child fatalities are 3-years-old and under.

-460,000 children are in foster care, and

-Almost 65,000 children are sexually abused.

And these numbers were before the COVID-19 pandemic came to add even more stress to the system and the families at the brink.

Lawmakers will be back in session this coming Monday and have only three weeks to present and agree on a new budget.

Governor Kemp has asked state agencies across the board to cut 11 to 14 percent of their budgets due to staggering drops in state revenue from the shutdown.

The ripple effects will be devastating to DFACS and numerous other state agencies, like Georgia State Patrol, nursing homes, and hospitals, with possibly more than a thousand state employees laid off - thousands more furloughed.

Copyright WRDW/WAGT 2020. All rights reserved.

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