Expert: Lessons must be learned from deaths of 2 children

Expert: Lessons must be learned from deaths of 2 children

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ATLANTA -

A child psychologist who works closely with the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services says officials must learn from the mistakes that may have led to the recent deaths of two metro Atlanta children.
      
The murders of Emani Moss and Eric Forbes have put an increased spotlight on how DFACS screens allegations of child abuse.
         
Dr. Andrew Gothard says there is no excuse for the deaths of the two young children, but he says the state can learn some valuables lessons from their tragic deaths if officials reevaluate their process

Their paths never crossed, but 10-year-old Emani Moss and 12-year-old Eric Forbes shared painfully similar lives until their lives were cut short within weeks of each other.

For years before his murder in mid-October, teachers reported their suspicions that Eric was being abused. Eric's father is now charged in Paulding County with the boy's murder.

Emani Moss' body was found burned in a trash can outside the family's Lawrenceville apartment on Saturday. Gwinnett County police have charged her father and stepmother with murder. Like Eric, there were reports to DFACS that Emani was being abused, but both children were allowed to return to the parents who now stand accused in their deaths.

Gothard, a clinical psychologist who specializes in Georgia child abuse cases, has testified for DFACS, as well as for parents and caregivers reported to the agency. He says the tragic deaths of Eric and Emani prove there is room to improve the process of protecting children.      

"There's room for better training, there's room for more DFACS personnel so that they have smaller case loads," Gothard said.

Dr. Gothard says the recent deaths are truly tragic but he points to the thousands of children every year who he says end up in safer situations after a DFACS investigation.

DFACS explained just how they handle reports of abuse and neglect. They say that children are interviewed and visually examined. Parents or caregivers are also interviewed as well as those familiar with the family. DFACS observes the home environment and after those steps, determines if the allegation of abuse or neglect is valid.

"The lessons to be learned is that DFACS needs to look at the process to see where there was a breakdown in communication, so that if these children should have been in foster care they are in foster care," Gothard said.

Gothard says budget cuts have also hampered the ability of case workers to better serve children.

DFACS officials say they are reviewing their own actions in the Moss and Forbes cases, and have already begun the process of examining how other allegations of abuse are screened.

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