I-TEAM: How do we hold DFCS accountable if laws allow it to prohibit the release of certain information?

The law is supposed to protect case workers and children involved with the Division of Family and Children's Services, but it also protects DFCS from being held accountable in neglectful investigations. (Source: WRDW)
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Friday, March 6, 2020
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- The law is supposed to protect case workers and children involved with the Division of Family and Children's Services, but it also protects DFCS from being held accountable in neglectful investigations.

Privacy laws prohibit DFCS from releasing certain information to the public like the identity of a child or the name of the person who reported abuse. This is to protect both the child and the reporter.

But getting any information, even redacted information, is near to impossible from DFCS, which makes near to impossible to hold the agency accountable.

PJ Campenero is no stranger to DFCS.

"They come involved in a lot of my cases, especially the family law cases,” Campenero said. “When I was a prosecutor for 6 years in Richmond County, they were also involved in those cases because we did prosecute child abuse cases."

Campenero says the hardest part in any case – criminal or civil – is getting the documentation.

DFCS almost always responds the same way to her requests.

"Anytime I've ever subpoenaed information from DFCS, there is a motion to squash that subpoena, meaning they don't have to respond or turn over the documents,” Campenero said.

Why do they do that?

"Privacy issues is what is alleged, but even when I was a prosecutor, and I was prosecuting child abuse cases, we still had an issue with cooperation from DFCS,” Campenero said.

Even a parent or teacher who reports abuse is often denied access to the case file.

"I think they use it as a protection because nobody can ever question you if they don't see what you were doing,” Campenero said.

This makes it near to impossible for anyone to hold DFCS accountable for negligence.

The I-Team previously reported on brothers sexually abused left in the custody of their mother despite more than a dozen detailed reports sent to DFCS by their teacher.

We also exposed reports of suspected physical abuse on a toddler that were closed by a case worker just weeks before investigators say he was murdered.

Campenero says it’s very difficult due to a process called “sovereign immunity.”

“That means you can’t sue the state unless they allow you to sue them,” Campenero said. “They never want you to sue them.”

It’s hard to sue and even harder to get DFCS documents.

"I know there are case workers out there whose hearts are in, and they work very hard, but they are overworked and underpaid,” Campenero said. “I think the whole agency would have to be revamped and there would be more accountability."

It takes sources and family members to provide us with the documents to expose negligence in DFCS.

That's how we were able to report this week on the sexually abused brothers left in the custody of their mother after years of referrals to DFCS.

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