(The Center Square) — Georgia rarely houses foster children in hotel rooms, a reversal of a controversial practice that caught the attention of federal authorities.
The news that the state no longer uses hotel rooms follows reports of widespread, systemic breakdowns within Georgia’s foster care system. Last year, the state spent $28 million to house children in hotels, sometimes for months.
Earlier this year, U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, sent a letter to the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services questioning the agency’s ability to protect children in their care. During a Tuesday Senate Study Committee on Foster Care and Adoption hearing, Candice Broce, commissioner of the Department of Human Services and director of the DFCS, said that on Sept. 8, the state had no foster children in hotels.
“We didn’t do a lot of celebration because we know, again, that it’s a moving target,” Broce said. “On any given day, we have kids that enter custody or may disrupt their current placement in a foster home or a congregate care setting, and we have to consider a hotel.
“We were absolutely thrilled to finally reach that, and since that time, we have been staying at zero or really keeping the use of hotels or office stays at [a] minimum — for true emergency situations,” Broce added.
The Senate committee is exploring possible solutions to improve the state’s maligned foster care system and plans to make recommendations for lawmakers to consider. The state has roughly 11,000 children in its foster care on any given day.
“I believe if you are pro-life, then you have to be pro-life at every step of the way,” Lt. Governor Burt Jones said during Americans for Prosperity-GA’s inaugural Pathway to Prosperity Summit. “We’re vastly improving our foster care system, our DFCS program, and we’re going to make it easier and more accessible to adopt children here in this state.
“We had over 100 children in our foster care system that were staying in hotel rooms,” Jones, a Republican, said. “That’s totally unacceptable, and I was proud to say that in just a few short months, we’ve totally reversed that.”
Officials say Senate Bill 133, a priority of Jones and which Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law in May, has helped eliminate the need for hotels. The measure establishes a uniform process for DFCS to address custody of children.
Despite the improvement, on Monday, the state used a hotel for three foster children statewide.
“All of those were emergencies — true emergencies,” Broce said. “None of them were in Fulton or DeKalb County, which is remarkable. In fact, in those two counties, we have … stayed at zero. We’ve got a streak running, which is really fantastic when you consider the population of children in custody in those two counties.”
Spokespeople for Ossoff did not respond to a request for comment.
By T.A. DeFeo | The Center Square contributor