Doctors' Expanded Authority over Kids Temporary Custody in Child Abuse Cases

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- Responding to reports of children who died from abuse and neglect under the state's protective watch, the Georgia House voted 164-4 yesterday to allow doctors to take temporary custody of children if they appear to be in imminent danger from their parents or guardians.

The measure, called the Terrell Peterson Act, is named for a 5-year-old Atlanta boy who died in 1998 after child welfare workers were alerted eight times that Terrell and his siblings were being abused and neglected.

When it comes to abused children whose lives could have been saved, Terrell was just "one of many children, but he became sort of the poster child," House Children and Youth Chairwoman Georganna Sinkfield, D-Atlanta, said.

The bill has already passed the Senate, which must decide whether to accept minor changes made in the House before the measure can be signed into law.

The bill would allow a doctor to temporarily take a child away from parents or guardians if the doctor has a reason to suspect the child is being abused or neglected and could die or suffer serious harm.

By law, only law enforcement officers can take a child into protective custody without a court order.

Under the bill, doctors would be required to notify a juvenile court officer or police within 24 hours of taking custody of a child. If a judge orders that the child be kept in protective custody, the child would be turned over to the state's child welfare agency, the Division of Family and Children Services.

At Gov. Roy Barnes' request, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating the division for its handling of 13 cases in which youngsters died, including Terrell's case. …