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SMStudios Investigates – The drive-through at the McDonald’s on Ridge Road in Canton, Georgia, is typically bustling on any Friday night. However, on November 11, 2022, employees found themselves dealing with an unusual situation when a worker called 911 to report a seemingly lost and abandoned 11-year-old boy.

According to body camera footage obtained by SMStudios Investigates, Canton police spent the evening trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the boy, later identified as Dillon. The child claimed that someone had picked him up from school and brought him to the McDonald’s, but he couldn’t identify the person.

When asked to describe the individual, Dillon mentioned they looked old, chubby, and had dark skin. Despite expressing a desire to go home, Dillon wouldn’t be returning that night. It was later revealed that he was in the custody of the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS).

Nearly two hours later, police confirmed Dillon’s custody with DFCS. The incident report revealed that a subcontracted staffer, responsible for watching Dillon until a DFCS caseworker arrived, had lost sight of the child but claimed to have never left him. The DFCS was housing Dillon at a hotel before placing him at KidsPeace Bowdon Georgia, a Carroll County facility specializing in mental and behavioral health programs.

A behavioral evaluation highlighted Dillon’s history of psychiatric issues upon entering state custody. However, Dillon’s father, Crispen, contends that state custody did more harm than good. Allegations of inadequate supervision resulting in injuries to Dillon and attacks by other facility residents were reported by the family.

Despite the family’s concerns, DFCS declined to open any investigations into Dillon’s case or KidsPeace, citing confidentiality. Atlanta News First obtained a state letter indicating that the agency found the allegations “unsubstantiated.”

A Cherokee County juvenile judge, disagreeing with Dillon’s placement at KidsPeace, ordered a change to a foster home in July 2023, stating concerns for the child’s health and welfare.

SMStudios Investigates has initiated a federal probe into Georgia’s child welfare agency, examining how it handles abuse allegations involving children in its care. State data obtained through open records requests revealed 3,832 reports of child abuse between October 2017 and June 2, 2023, with only 303 allegations sustained. The investigation raises questions about the disparity and advocates for addressing historic agency staffing shortages.

Tom Rawlings, former DFCS director, believes that high standards for reporting abuse contribute to the low number of sustained cases. However, advocates argue that staffing shortages have led to shortcuts in investigations, with 28 percent of cases closed within a single day.

In response to the allegations, KidsPeace emphasized the safety and well-being of the young people in their care. They stated that privacy regulations prevented them from commenting on specific circumstances but expressed confidence in their staff’s commitment to safety.

As the state deliberates on Dillon’s future, he is currently in a foster home. Crispen describes his son as resilient, referring to his experiences as “battle scars.” SMStudios Investigates will continue to monitor and report on developments in this case.

Staggering data details abuse withing Georgia DFACS yet programs rescuing kids from paths like this, like AYA developed by Rommys Beltran get shut down.
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