Housing foster kids in county offices, hotels may soon end

A state Senate committee approved a bill regulating the practice after a series of Atlanta News First investigations.
A proposed law dealing with how and when children enter the foster care system in Georgia was passed by a state Senate committee on Thursday.
Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 3:32 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2023 at 5:53 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A proposed law dealing with how and when children enter the foster care system in Georgia was passed by a state Senate committee on Thursday.

The bill, SB 133, was introduced after a series of months-long Atlanta News First Investigates reports on the practice of office hoteling: housing teens in government offices for weeks or even months without a bed and without going to school. Numerous police reports documented kids doing drugs, fighting each other, and fighting workers. The bill would require the courts to first make all ‘reasonable efforts’ for resources that would help a child in need, before considering sending them into state custody.

Last week, U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Georgia) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) sent a letter to Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), demanding answers into several of the agency’s practices, including housing kids in DFCS care in department offices.

“I think that without investigative reporting for example by Atlanta News First, this might not have come to light,” Ossoff said earlier this week. “We’re not talking about statistics, we’re talking about babies, we’re talking about young children. We’re talking about vulnerable adolescence.”

In the letter, Ossoff and Blackburn specifically asked Commissioner Candace Broce about her recent testimony of “DFCS’s practice of placing vulnerable, at-risk children who do not have traditional placements in hotels or DFCS offices, a practice you referred to as ‘hoteling.’ ”

Atlanta News First Investigates also has revealed Georgia’s foster care system is overburdened because kids experiencing mental or behavioral health issues have juvenile court cases which typically end in two ways: go to a detention facility or go into DFCS custody. Judges often choose DFCS custody.

Broce said office hoteling practice cost the state $28 million last year and also resulted in an unprecedented burnout of caseworkers and resources.

Foster children living in metro Atlanta department of family and children services (DFCS) offices for months at a time were doing drugs, stealing, fighting, and running away, according to an Atlanta News First investigation.

Back in August, the investigation reported on the practice of office hoteling. A subsequent investigation also determined the kids who ran away from those offices have become victims of sex trafficking, a systemic issue within the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, the state agency tasked with protecting kids. The Georgia DFCS is overseen by the state Department of Human Services (DHS).

In the federal inquiry, Georgia foster care leaders have until March 10, 2023, to submit records on office hoteling, caseloads, and caseworker reviews.

As for Georgia’s SB 133 to become law, it will have to go before the state Senate Rules Committee next before it can be taken to the floor of the General Assembly to be voted on.