By LYDIA BERGLAR
After hearing several reports from Dade County citizens about how difficult it is to contact our local Division of Family & Children Services (DFCS) office, the Sentinel explored the issue.
The first report came from Rex Blevins, a deacon at Grace Community Church in Trenton. He explained that the church attempted to help a mother of several children whose husband recently left her. The church hoped to connect the mother with DFCS for help with legal questions.
Blevins visited the DFCS office, but he found the doors locked, with a sign saying it is only open on Tuesdays. He added that the DFCS phone system is long and complicated. “I couldn’t understand what it was saying, so I just hung up.”
He concluded, “The mother couldn’t get any information to help her in her situation. She’s working, but all the bills come to her.”
The second report came from Carey Anderson, public information officer for the county, who witnessed a grandparent attempting to visit the office. The grandparent was looking for help to care for grandchildren, but found the doors locked. Anderson noted that she and other county officials approached the local DFCS office about their limited hours and complicated phone system.
However, the Dupree family of Lookout Mountain reported that they have not had communication difficulties when dealing with DFCS. The Duprees have fostered and adopted children over the years. In recent years, these have been Walker County cases. Carey Dupree reported that the Walker County case managers have been easy to contact via text and email.
County Executive Ted Rumley confirmed that the county has discussed the issue with DFCS. He noted that before COVID-19, there were fewer reports of issues with DFCS. Employees in the local DFCS office have told the county that their hours and phone system are set by the state.
Rumley said, “People call us and say they’ve tried to call DFCS. I think [the state] is trying to centralize DFCS. For a long time, there was no receptionist down there even when they were open. One person was having to take care of two people.”
The DFCS office is located on the bottom floor of the county administrative building. When the county built the building, the state of Georgia agreed to rent the bottom floor for the DFCS and health department offices. The state pays $13,000 a month to Dade County for this space.
The Sentinel visited the office and found a sign on the door, part of which read, “Lobby hours are Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. We continue to encourage customers to take advantage of our self-service options/telephonic communications to conduct business with DFCS…Apply, make changes to or renew benefits at gateway.ga.gov. Call us at 1-877-423-4746 to apply, renew or make changes by phone. Visit us online at dfcs.ga.gov. If a customer cannot be helped with self-service options, customers will be contacted within 2 business days to schedule an appointment.”
The Sentinel asked an employee at the health department (located directly across the hall from the DFCS office) if people entered their office attempting to reach DFCS. “Every day,” the employee said.
The Sentinel also called the Dade County DFCS number, 706-657-7511. After ringing several times, a recording played, saying, “Virtual lobby hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.”
The recording then played through about six or seven options, some of which directed callers to websites or other phone numbers. There were no options like, “Press one to leave a voicemail, press two to contact the state office,” etc. In order to leave a message, callers must wait for the entire recording to be repeated in Spanish before being prompted to leave a voicemail.
The Walker County and Catoosa County offices both list the same number (706-866-3546) which leads to the same recorded message as the Dade number.
All three offices have abysmal Google ratings. With 62 reviews, Walker DFCS holds a 1.5 out of five. With 29 reviews, Catoosa has a 2.1. Dade only has six reviews for a 2.2 rating.
Kathy Johnson, Dade County DFCS director, did not respond directly to inquiries from the Sentinel. She directed the Sentinel to Kylie Winton, communications director for the Georgia Department of Human Services.
Winton initially reached out via email, but she did not respond to the Sentinel’s follow-up email. She couldn’t be reached by phone, and her voicemail box was full.