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States see Alabama's DHR as role model

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — Officials from Louisiana, Oklahoma, Georgia and Kentucky have been looking at how Alabama's Department of Human Resources handles child welfare cases, and they give its "continuum of care" approach high marks.

The state's Department of Human Resources is getting noticed differently after the dismissal of its long-running "R.C." lawsuit over foster care earlier this year.

"To come out of their consent decree, which can be a traumatic blow to a system, and do really well is a tribute to their leadership," said Marketa Gautreau, secretary for Louisiana's Department of Social Services office of community services.

The 18-year court case was filed on behalf of an 8-year-old known as "R.C." The child was removed from his father's home for alleged neglect and went through a series of short-term placements, including confinement in psychiatric hospitals, while in DHR's custody.

Alabama agreed to set standards for its child welfare system in 1991, including keeping families together when possible and intervening quickly to prevent abuse.

Court oversight ended but the plaintiff's attorneys filed a brief in April asking the court to overturn the dismissal. A practice DHR developed while under court control is now getting other states' attention. It involves working with individual children and their families in hopes of solving problems of abuse or neglect.

This approach's aim is reuniting children with their families as quickly as possible. Pat Wilson, an executive administrator with Kentucky's Department of Community Based Services, called the approach innovative. A group from Kentucky came to Alabama in August and spent several days talking to DHR employees about programs, The Birmingham News reported.

Howard Hendrick, commissioner of Oklahoma's Department of Human Services, said his state was interested in the methods Alabama is using to assess a child's and family's needs.

"Good assessments are a key component to developing a plan of action for determining the risk of an existing situation and an appropriate placement," Hendrick said.

Georgia is in its second year under a court's consent decree, much like Alabama was.

Jim Dimas, a court-appointed monitor for Georgia's child welfare system, said Georgia is trying to find a "practice model" or set of values and beliefs that motivate policies.

Dimas said Alabama has already found one and is doing well at getting the most out of it.

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Information from: The Birmingham News

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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