He was in state custody sleeping in a DFCS office. Now he’s speaking out

An Atlanta News First investigation exposed a practice called ‘office hoteling,’ where children in DFCS care slept in offices
Teenager in custody of Georgia's DFCS speaks out
Published: Dec. 5, 2022 at 11:55 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 13, 2022 at 1:41 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Even outside in a cold and rainy Decatur park, Christian Hall has never felt so comfortable as he basks in what he calls “the freedom.”

Having turned 18 just weeks ago, Hall is aging out of Georgia’s foster care, a system that he believes failed him.

But he’s resolving it in his own way. “I want to become a lawyer, practice civil rights,” he said.

Hall said his own attorneys did not grasp the chaos of moving from foster home to foster home. Earlier this year, he was moved to a place that was truly unexpected: a Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) office.

“It didn’t make sense why this was happening to me,” he said. “When I came in, I saw a lot of blankets on the floor, a lot of things on the floor. There was not a lot of food in there.”

ORIGINAL REPORT: Unfit for living: Why kids under DFCS care were housed in offices

DFCS, the agency tasked with protecting kids, housed foster kids in its county offices for months on end. Reports reveal violence and drugs, as well as police showing up more than 100 times to Fulton and Dekalb county DFCS offices.

The practice is called office-hoteling, and spanned across last year and the first half of 2022. According to data obtained by Atlanta News First Investigates, teens in Fulton County lived in offices, on average, for 16 days. In DeKalb, kids lived in offices, on average, for 12 days.

“I felt like it was over for me,” Hall said.

The cycle stems from juvenile court rooms where kids with behavioral issues due to mental, emotional, or sexual trauma appear before a judge who has two options: send them to a detention facility or place them in DFCS custody.

Judges often choose DFCS custody in an attempt to obtain public resources for the child. However, DFCS caseloads are becoming higher while foster home options are lessening.

Prior to the Atlanta News First Investigates report, Fulton County Chief Juvenile Judge Juliette Scales said she was not aware of the conditions children in DFCS custody were facing.

RELATED: Kids in DFCS care running away, falling victim to sex trafficking

“The conditions that the children are living in, it’s just deplorable in the office,” Judge Scales said. “It’s clearly, certainly not suitable for children.”

Nonetheless, the judge maintained her hands are tied, and explained the law only allows the courts to decided in favor or against DFCS custody.

As a judge, Scales said her job is to only hear evidence, and not advocate. She said the responsibility falls on DFCS to choose the child’s placement, and added “any day is too long” for a child in DFCS custody to be housed in an office.

She said the state would benefit from funding allocation to housing facilities for temporary child placement as well as programs for additional treatment like therapy and counseling. But “without that funding, with those resources, it will happen again,” she said.

“As I see children come into the court, it’s very clear to me that a lot of what we need has to do with the ability to be able to develop a system that will allow children to feel heard, to feel wanted and to feel as though their needs are or will be met through the process,” Judge Scales said.

Records reviewed by Atlanta News First Investigates exposes glaring disparities. Although Black residents only make up roughly half the population in Fulton (48%) and DeKalb (55%), foster care for the two counties is 90% Black children, according to the latest state monitoring report.

Similarly, Black foster kids were the largest group living in area offices that are not designed for living.

Community advocates want to see facilities created for foster youth as an emergency option, when a child needs resources for trauma or when no foster homes are available.

“Emergency placement should not be a hotel or an office,” Hall said. “We deserve to be listened to; our concerns are valid and important because we are the system. We are living this.”

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ANF+ BEHIND THE INVESTIGATION: The practice of housing state foster kids in offices is legal. Why?

ANF+: Office Housing Kids in State Foster Care