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Georgia Laws Governing Child Abuse & Neglect Cases

The Georgia laws that govern child abuse and neglect define terminology related to abuse, neglect,
and deprivation, and they outline the procedures for responding to cases of child maltreatment to
ensure that the rights of children and families are protected. The Official Code of Georgia
Annotated (O.C.G.A.) determines what is to be done by whom, from the initial report of suspected

abuse until the case is closed. Specifically, these laws outline:

I. DEFINITIONS
The Definition of a Deprived Child :
“A child who is without proper care or control, subsistence, education as required by law,
or other care or control necessary for his physical, mental, or emotional health or morals;
has been placed for care or adoption in violation of the law; has been abandoned by his
parents or other legal custodian; or is without a parent, guardian, or custodian.” O.C.G.A. §
15-11-2
The Definition of Child Abuse:
“Physical injury or death inflicted upon a child by a parent or caretaker thereof by other
than accidental means . . . provided, however, physical forms of discipline may be used as
long as there is no physical injury to the child.” O.C.G.A. § 49-5-180(5)(A).
The Definition of Child Neglect:
“Neglect or exploitation of a child by a parent or caretaker if said neglect or exploitation
consists of a lack of supervision, abandonment, or intentional or unintentional disregard by
a parent or caretaker of a child’s basic needs for food, shelter, medical care, or education as
evidenced by repeated incidents or a single incident which places the child at substantial
risk of harm.” O.C.G.A. § 49-5-180(5)(B).
The Definition of Child Sexual Abuse:
“Sexual abuse means a person’s employing, using, persuading, inducing, enticing, or
coercing any minor who is not that person’s spouse to engage in any act which involves:
(A) Sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal,
whether between persons of the same or opposite sex;
(B) Bestiality;
(C) Masturbation;
(D) Lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person;
(E) Flagellation or torture by or upon a person who is nude;
(F) Condition of being fettered, bound, or otherwise physically restrained on the part of
the person who is nude;
Georgia Resources for National CASA Volunteer Manual, Chapters 1 and 2

(G) Physical contact in an act of apparent sexual stimulation or gratification with any
person’s clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, or buttocks or with a female’s
clothed or unclothed breasts;
(H) Defecation or urination for the purpose of sexual stimulation;
(I) Penetration of the vagina or rectum by any object except when done as part of a
recognized medical procedure; or
(J) Sexual exploitation.
Sexual abuse shall not include consensual acts involving persons of the opposite sex when
the sex acts are between minors or between a minor and an adult who is not more than five
years older than the minor. This provision shall not be deemed or construed to repeal any
law concerning the age or capacity to consent. O.C.G.A. § 49-5-180(8.1).
The Definition of Sexual Exploitation:
“conduct by a person who allows, permits, encourages, or requires a child to engage in:
(A) Prostitution, as defined in Code Section 16-6-9; or
(B) Sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing any visual or print medium
depicting such conduct, as defined in Code Section 16-12-100.” O.C.G.A. § 49-5180(9).

II. REPORTING AND INVESTIGATION
Requirements for Reporting Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect
Certain professionals are required by law to report child abuse if they have reasonable cause to
believe that a child is abused. These professionals include: physicians; hospital or medical
personnel; dentists; licensed and intern psychologists; podiatrists; nurses; professional counselors,
social workers, and therapists; teachers, school administrators, and guidance counselors; child
welfare agency personnel; law enforcement personnel; and child service organization (including
daycare providers) personnel. This last category of “child service organization personnel”
would include CASA personnel. CASA volunteers are required to report any incident of child
abuse or neglect, or any situation in which the CASA volunteer has reason to believe that a child
is in imminent danger to the CASA supervisor and the local DFCS office.
Failure of a mandatory reporter to report a suspected case of child abuse may result in a
misdemeanor.
Other persons, other than professionals, who have reasonable cause to believe that a child is abused
may report or cause reports to be made.
An oral report must be made immediately, but no later than 24 hours by telephone or otherwise and
followed by a report in writing, if requested, to DFCS or the proper authorities. O.C.G.A. § 19-7-5
Any release of records shall protect the identity of any person reporting abuse. O.C.G.A. § 49-5-41

Georgia Resources for National CASA Volunteer Manual, Chapters 1 and 2

III.

ROLE OF THE CASA VOLUNTEER

As used in the Georgia Code, the term "Court Appointed Special Advocate" means a volunteer
who has been screened and trained regarding deprivation, child development, and juvenile court
procedures and has been appointed as a guardian ad litem by the court in a deprivation case.
The court, at any stage of a proceeding, on application of a party or on its own motion, shall
appoint a GAL, CASA or both for a child who is a party to the proceeding if the child has no
parent, guardian, or custodian appearing on the child's behalf or if the interests of the parent,
guardian, or custodian appearing on the child's behalf conflict with the child's interests or in any
other case in which the interests of the child require a guardian. A party to the proceeding cannot
be appointed. O.C.G.A. §1 5-11-9.
A CASA volunteer is a person that has been screened and trained, met all requirements of the
CASA program and sworn-in by a Judge. The CASA volunteer is appointed by the Judge at the
earliest possible stage of the proceedings. In all cases that the CASA volunteer is assigned,
unless otherwise ordered by the Judge, he/she shall: (1) Conduct an independent assessment to
determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the case; (2) Maintain regular and sufficient
in-person contact with the child; (3) Submit written reports to the court regarding the child’s best
interests; (4) Advocate for timely court hearings to obtain permanency for the child; (5) Request
judicial citizen review panel or judicial review of the case; (6) Collaborate with the child’s
attorney, if any; (7) Attend all court hearings and other proceedings to advocate for the child’s
best interests; (8) Monitor compliance with the case plan and all court orders; and (9) Review all
court related documents.
The CASA volunteer is not required to: (1) Engage in activities which could reasonably be
construed as the practice of law; or (2) Obtain legal counsel or other professional services for a
child.
The CASA volunteer must be notified of hearings, reviews and other significant changes to a
child’s circumstances in the same manner as other parties. The CASA volunteer shall be notified
of the formation of the case plan and may be given the opportunity to be heard by the Court.
The CASA volunteer has access to all records and information regarding the child’s case with the
exception of the name of the person who reported the abuse and the Office of the Child Advocate
records. All records are confidential.
The CASA volunteer acting in good faith and in the absence of fraud and malice is immune from
criminal and civil liability for actions or inactions required by this law.
The Court may release a CASA volunteer from the case as the Court deems appropriate and/or
for failure to carry out their duties.
O.C.G.A. §1 5-11-9.1

IV.REMOVAL FROM THE CHILD’S HOME
A court's order removing a child from the child's home is based upon a finding by the court that
continuation in the home would be contrary to the welfare of the child.
Georgia Resources for National CASA Volunteer Manual, Chapters 1 and 2

The court must also determine whether reasonable efforts were made to preserve and reunify
families prior to the placement of a child in foster care, to prevent or eliminate the need for
removal of the child from that child's home, and to make it possible for the child to return safely
to the child's home. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-58

V. COURT HEARINGS
72 Hour/Emergency Hearing – This emergency hearing is held within 72 hours of a child’s
removal from the home. At this hearing, the court must decide whether there is probable cause to
believe the child is deprived (abused and/or neglected). This hearing provides parents with
judicial review of actions taken. If the child has already been taken into DFCS custody, the court
determines if the child shall be released or continue in DFCS custody.
Adjudicatory Hearing – This hearing is the “trial” in which the court hears evidence on any
petition alleging deprivation. The court must then decide if DFCS has proven, by clear and
convincing evidence, that the child is deprived (abused and/or neglected). If the court finds that
the child is not deprived, it must dismiss the petition. The outcome of the adjudication controls
whether the state may continue to intervene over the objections of the family. This hearing
should be scheduled no later than 10 days from the filing of the petition and completed no later
than 30 days following the child’s removal.
Dispositional Hearing – If the court has determined that by clear and convincing evidence that
the child is deprived, a dispositional hearing is the next stage of the court process. In this
hearing, often held immediately following the adjudicatory hearing, the court determines who
should have custody and control of the child. In addition, the court will review the case plan and
the goals for reunification for appropriateness, if that is the permanency plan for child. This
hearing should be completed no later than 60 days following the child’s removal. An order of
disposition placing a deprived child in DFCS custody continues in force for 12 months unless
terminated earlier by the court.
Initial and Periodic Review - All cases of children in DFCS custody must be initially reviewed
within ninety (90) days of the dispositional order but no later than six (6) months following the
child's placement in temporary foster care. These reviews examine the parties’ progress toward
the goals set forth in the case plan and provide an opportunity for correction and revision of the
case plan. The purpose of review hearings is to make sure the case progresses and children spend
as little time as possible in foster care. The reviews can be conducted by the juvenile court judge
or by judicial citizen review panels established by the court, as the court directs. After the initial
review, each case must be reviewed at least every six (6) months until permanency for the child
can be achieved.
Permanency/Custody Extension Hearings – Because both permanency placement and custody
extension decisions must be made within 12 months, some Georgia courts address them in one
hearing while other courts hold separate hearings. Custody must be addressed at this time since
the court’s original order placing the child in foster care is valid for only one year, while
permanency placement is addressed to determine if a child will remain in foster care and what the
child’s permanency plan will be (e.g. reunfication, termination of parental rights/adoption).
Unlike ordinary review hearings which involve routine oversight of case progress, permanency
hearings represent a deadline within which the final direction of the case should be determined.
Georgia Resources for National CASA Volunteer Manual, Chapters 1 and 2

Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) – With the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families
Act of 1997 (ASFA), timelines for the filing of a petition to terminate parental rights were
established. Under this federal law and Georgia law, DFCS must file a petition to terminate
parental rights if: (1) The child has been in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months; (2)
The child is an abandoned infant; or (3) The child’s parent has been convicted of one of the
crimes that create an exception to reasonable efforts. These crimes include “aggravated
circumstances” such as abandonment, torture, chronic abuse, and sexual abuse.
Reasonable efforts are also not required if the parent has been convicted of: murder or
manslaughter or aiding, attempting, or conspiracy to kill his/her child as well as felony assault
resulting in serious bodily injury to the child. A TPR petition is also required to be filed if the
parent’s rights to a sibling have already been involuntarily terminated.
There are three exceptions to the rules above that require DFCS to file a TPR petition. These are:
(1) the child is being cared for by a relative; (2) there is a compelling reason why TPR would not
be in the child’s best interest; and (3) DFCS has not provided the parents with services outlined in
the case plan that are necessary for the child to safely return home.
In TPR hearings (and appeals of TPR decisions), Georgia law requires that an attorney be
appointed to represent the child as his/her lawyer while providing that the court may also appoint
a separate GAL.
The Court must make two decisions when considering whether to terminate parental rights: (1)
whether there is present clear and convincing evidence of parental misconduct or inability to care
for the child, and if so; (2) whether termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the
child, after considering the physical, mental, emotional, and moral condition and needs of the
child who is the subject of the proceeding, including the need for a secure and stable home.

Georgia Resources for National CASA Volunteer Manual, Chapters 1 and 2

Grounds for TPR include:
(a) Written parental consent to the termination of parental rights;
(b) Wanton and willfull failure to comply with a child support court order for 12 months or
longer;
(c) The parent has abandoned the child or the child was left under circumstances that the
identity of the parent is unknown and cannot be ascertained despite diligent searching, and
the parent has not come forward to claim the child within three months following the
finding of the child; or
(d) The court determines parental misconduct or inability by finding that:
(i)

The child is deprived, as defined in O.C.G.A § 15-11-2;

(ii)

That lack of proper parental care or control by the parent in question is the cause of the
child's status as deprived; and

(iii)

Continued deprivation will cause or is likely to cause serious physical, mental,
emotional, or moral harm to the child.

In determining whether the child is without “proper parental care and control,” the court
considers, but is not limited to, the following:
(a) A medically verifiable deficiency that renders the parent unable to provide adequately for
the physical, mental, emotional, or moral condition and needs of the child;
(b) Excessive use of or history of chronic unrehabilitated abuse of intoxicating liquors or
narcotic or dangerous drugs or controlled substances with the effect of rendering the parent
incapable of providing adequately for the physical, mental, emotional, or moral condition
and needs of the child;
(c) Conviction of the parent of a felony and imprisonment therefore which has a demonstrable
negative effect on the quality of the parent-child relationship;
(d) Egregious conduct or evidence of past egregious conduct of the parent toward the child or
toward another child of a physically, emotionally, or sexually cruel or abusive nature;
(e) Physical, mental, or emotional neglect of the child or evidence of past physical, mental, or
emotional neglect of the child or of another child by the parent; or
(f) Injury or death of a sibling under circumstances which constitute substantial evidence that
such injury or death resulted from parental neglect or abuse.

Georgia Resources for National CASA Volunteer Manual, Chapters 1 and 2

VI.

OTHER

Appeals - All final judgments of a juvenile court judge, including TPR, are appealable to the
Georgia Court of Appeals or the Georgia Supreme Court. However, no such judgment or order of
the court shall stand until reversed or modified by the reviewing court. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-3.
Open vs. Closed Courtrooms - Whether a hearing is generally open or closed to public access is
governed by OCGA § 15-11-28. Any person seeking access to a juvenile court proceeding that is
generally closed to public access must file a written motion for access. The court must then
quickly set the motion for hearing.
Rights of Parents - If the parent or parents of the child wish to be represented by an attorney but
are indigent, the court must appoint an attorney for them.
Rights of Foster/Pre-Adoptive Parents – Foster and pre-adoptive parents must be provided with
notice of and an opportunity to be heard in any review or hearing. This provision does not make
them a party to such review or hearing solely on the basis of such notice and opportunity to be
heard.
Evidence – The Georgia Code states that, “All information helpful in determining the questions
presented, including oral and written reports, may be received by the court and relied upon to the
extent of its probative value even though not otherwise competent in the hearing on the petition.”
O.C.G.A. § 15-11-56.
The Georgia Court of Appeals has interpreted this provision to permit the juvenile court’s
consideration of CASA reports and statements in making its decisions. Of course, all parties or
their counsel may request to examine the written reports received and to cross-examine
individuals making the reports.

Georgia Resources for National CASA Volunteer Manual, Chapters 1 and 2