U.S. Senate Human Rights Subcommittee Chairman Jon Ossoff is continuing his bipartisan investigation into the abuse and neglect of children in foster care.
Tuesday, Sen. Ossoff held a press conference at Covenant House Georgia to release that an analysis conducted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) found that between 2018 and 2022 — 1,790 children in the care of Georgia DFCS were reported missing.
As a part of its ongoing bipartisan investigation, the Subcommittee requested data from NCMEC on the number of children who were reported missing from DFCS’ care between 2018 and 2022.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children who go missing from care are left more vulnerable to human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and other threats to their health and safety.
“These numbers are deeply troubling because these are more than numbers. These are children,”Sen. Ossoff said. “And according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — and I think the leadership here at Covenant House has a lot of experience with issues like this — children who go missing from care are left more vulnerable to human trafficking, to sexual exploitation and to other threats to their health and safety.”
“This is about human beings,” Sen. Ossoff later said. “This is about vulnerable children who deserve protection from abuse, who deserve sanctuary from neglect. And that is why I will continue relentlessly to investigate failures to protect the most vulnerable children in our state.”
Of the 1,790 children in the care of Georgia DFCS who were reported missing, NCMEC’s review found some children were repeatedly reported missing from DFCS’ care — as the NCMEC study found nearly 2,500 episodes of children in the care of Georgia DFCS being reported missing in the 5-year span.
The Federal Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, signed into law in 2014, requires State agencies to report a missing child to both law enforcement and NCMEC within 24 hours of receiving information about a missing child under their care [per 42 U.S.C. § 671(a)(35)(B)].
NCMEC is a nonprofit organization designated by Congress to serve as the national clearinghouse on issues relating to missing and exploited children. NCMEC is funded partially by a mandatory Federal grant from the Department of Justice and serves as a reporting and case management center for issues related to the prevention of and recovery from child victimization.
On Wednesday, Human Rights Subcommittee Chairman Ossoff and Ranking Member Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) convened a hearing in Washington, D.C. to receive testimony from former foster kids, parents, and experts as part of the Subcommittee’s ongoing bipartisan investigation into the treatment of foster children in the United States.
Chairman Ossoff’s Subcommittee heard heartbreaking testimony from a mother whose 2-year-old daughter was murdered while in DFCS’ care and from a former foster child who described being “locked up” like an “inmate” and “overmedicated” while in DFCS’ care. The Subcommittee also heard from experts who testified about “systemic failures” within the system, with one expert testifying, “The foster care system in Georgia has always struggled with systemic challenges and barriers, but I’ve never seen it as dismal as it is today.”
In February, following reports that children in the care of Georgia’s Division of Family & Children Services (DFCS) have been subjected to abuse and neglect, Chairman Ossoff and Ranking Member Blackburn launched a bipartisan inquiry to assess the safety of children in the system.
Uploaded by Senator Jon Ossoff on 2023-10-27.
Please find a transcript below of Sen. Ossoff’s press conference remarks:
SEN. OSSOFF: “Good morning all and I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to you, Dr. A, and to your entire team for the hospitality that you’ve shown to me and my team, but more importantly, the incredible work that you’re doing here at Covenant House to provide vital services for youth who are experiencing homelessness.
“And it’s been an inspiration for me, Dr. A, to see a team of dedicated and compassionate people who are focused on supporting and lifting young people in our state, who are experiencing some of the toughest challenges and circumstances imaginable and I felt from each member of your team, you radiated the kind of empathy, care concern and intentionality that I think is so important to doing this work well. your expertise is clear.
“And from the young people with whom we just shared some very difficult but very powerful and impactful conversations, I learned a tremendous amount about the challenges faced by youth in Georgia who have been through the foster care system, and the challenges faced by young people in Georgia who are experiencing homelessness.
“So I would like before I begin with the remainder of my remarks, all of us who are here just to give a round of applause to Dr. A, and her team for their work.
“I want to thank all of you for joining me today and just to take a moment and describe the conversations that we just had.
“As many of you know, in February I launched a bipartisan inquiry into allegations of abuse and neglect of foster children here in Georgia, and an inquiry into the human rights of foster children across the country following press reporting from investigative journalists, especially here in the metro Atlanta area, who unveiled serious allegations of significant abuse and neglect of foster children.
“And I just had the opportunity to speak with some extraordinary young people who have faced extraordinary challenges, but who demonstrated a level of courage and wisdom and determination to lift themselves up and their kids up that really moved me. And so, I want to thank you for engaging with me and my team in that way. And for sharing your stories with us.
“Senator Blackburn and I launched this bipartisan inquiry into the human rights of foster children earlier this spring. In representing Georgia in the U.S. Senate, I’ve focused much of my attention on what’s happening here in my state, and on the performance of Georgia DFCS, which receives hundreds of millions of dollars of Federal funding every year, which is subject to Federal oversight.
“And on Wednesday, Senator Blackburn and I convened the first public hearing as part of this ongoing bipartisan probe. We heard heartbreaking from Rachel Aldridge, a Georgia mother, whose two-year-old daughter Brooklynn was murdered while in care — a proper background check had not been carried out. The reports that she had made about concerns for her daughter’s health and safety had not been heard.
“We heard from Mon’a Houston, an inspiring 19-year-old young woman who had been in foster care … who described being locked up — she described it as being locked up like an inmate — while she was in care, she described being overmedicated, while she was in care.
“We released data that the Subcommittee has obtained from an audit conducted by Georgia DFCS in early 2023, revealing a failure rate of 84% to properly assess and respond to threats to the safety of children in their own homes or in care.
“And we’ve heard from some of the preeminent experts in child welfare here in Georgia, who characterized what they described as systemic failures within the system with one expert testifying ‘the foster care system in Georgia has always struggled with systemic challenges and barriers, but I’ve never seen it as dismal as it is today.’
“And as I mentioned, this bipartisan inquiry is ongoing. And as I said on Wednesday, this is not an investigation about statistics and bureaucratic language and terminology.
“This is an investigation about children. This is an investigation about children and youth and some of the most vulnerable youth in Georgia and across the country. This is an investigation about what is being done to protect children who have faced abandonment, who have been orphaned, who have faced severe abuse and neglect in early childhood, in many cases. Children who rely upon State agencies and Federal policy which oversees those state agencies as their last hope for safety.
“So, in addition to coming to Covenant House today to engage with the team here and to speak with young people who have been impacted by this system, I’m also here to share some of the latest findings from this ongoing investigation. And I want to emphasize that this is ongoing. We are continuing to interview witnesses we’ve spoken now with more than 100 people. We are continuing to review thousands of pages of records.
“I want to share with you one of our latest findings today for the first time, and just for background, State foster agencies are required by Federal law to report missing children to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC.
“And in an analysis conducted at the Subcommittee’s request, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has found that between 2018 and 2022, 1,790 children in the care of Georgia DFCS were reported missing.
“Let me repeat that for you: in an analysis conducted at the Subcommittee’s request, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that between 2018 and 2022 1790 children in the care of Georgia DFCS were reported missing.
“These numbers are deeply troubling because these are more than numbers. These are children. And according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, and I think the leadership here at Covenant House has a lot of experience with issues like this, children who go missing from care are left more vulnerable to human trafficking, to sexual exploitation and to other threats to their health and safety.
“Furthermore, of the 1,790 children in the care of Georgia DFCS who were reported missing during this period, the review conducted at our request by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that some were repeatedly reported missing and in fact this analysis found nearly 2,500 episodes of Georgia foster children being reported missing during this five-year span.
“So this investigation is ongoing. The Subcommittee is working actively to analyze data and produce additional findings. Again, based upon now more than 100 interviews, and thousands of pages of records, but more important than thousands of pages of records, are the testimonies that the public heard on Wednesday from Ms. Aldridge and from Mon’a and the stories that my team and I heard today from young people here at Covenant House about what they’ve been through, because this is about human beings.
“This is about vulnerable children who deserve protection from abuse, who deserve sanctuary from neglect. And that is why I will continue relentlessly to investigate failures to protect the most vulnerable children in our state.”
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