Georgia Child Welfare Agency Ready for New Computer System

Lawmakers say millions of dollars have already gone into fruitless efforts and they don't want to waste any more money.

Georgia DFACS caseworkers are responsible for protecting thousands of children across the state, which can often be a draining task.

Linda Hogan, director of Thomas County DFACS, says, "Caseworkers do have to spend an incredible amount of time researching, whether that's on the telephone or on the computer trying to get access to other agency's information."

Now, after $32 million and a decade of trying, they say they're only steps away from implementing a comprehensive computer database for their cases if the state House and Senate will match federal funding.

On Friday, the state Department of Family and Childrens' Services expects to ask the federal government to approve plans for the Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System, or SACWIS, but many caseworkers say they fear lawmakers have lost heart.

DFACS officials say some state lawmakers don't want to make room in the budget for an additional $50 million. Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver says, "I think SACWIS has gotten a bad vibe. I perceive there are cheaper, more efficient ways to build an internal database system."

Caseworkers disagree.

Sandra Woodruff, case investigator for Georgia DFACS, says, "A lot of times we have to respond to reports and we might not have all the information we need at that point. With this we'll be able to tap right into it and access information from other agencies like DJJ that might work with the family."

Without the additional state money, DFACS officials fear Georgia will not receive matching federal dollars and the extra hand SACWIS could provide will be taken away.

Governor Perdue included $11 million for the project in his budget, but the state Senate has only included $4.5 million and the House eliminated all funds.

The differences will be worked out by the end of the session.