Fewer foster kids living in county offices, state says

Atlanta News First Investigations first exposed the practice of office hoteling last year.
Georgia’s child welfare system reports significant changes one month after a new law takes effect.
Published: Aug. 17, 2023 at 6:31 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Georgia’s child welfare system reports significant changes one month after a new law takes effect.

It comes after Atlanta News First investigations uncovered the state’s practice of housing kids in county offices.

The practice is called office hoteling, which meant hundreds of Georgia foster children were sometimes living in offices in conditions with violence, drugs, and no beds, a years-long Atlanta News First investigative series revealed. SB 133 set a goal to end the issue.

The legislation went into effect on July 1. The law was designed to address why the state agency tasked with protecting children was long overloaded. That agency is the Division of Family and Children Services, known as DFCS.

Our reporting found children dealing with mental and behavioral issues would be sent before a juvenile judge who was faced with two options: put the child in a detention facility as punishment or send them into DFCS custody.

The judge would often choose DFCS custody as the lesser of two evils. However, there was nowhere to put them—too many kids in foster care when they instead needed healthcare.

With excess kids, the state argued they had fewer placement options, and fewer foster homes so they needed to house some teens in offices for weeks, sometimes months.

SB 133 now requires courts to help find resources for kids and their families before ever considering sending the child into state custody. It would stop kids from entering foster care when they don’t actually need it.

The child would get to stay with their own families while getting help, according to supporters of the bill.

Prior to the law, just on one night alone, there could be about 100 kids sleeping in offices. Last week, the state confirmed in a Senate Study Committee on Foster Care and Adoption, under the new law, they’ve reached a record low: only seven kids were “office-hoteled.”

“Keep in mind that hoteling and risk of the hoteling will remain a moving target, but we are so close to zero that DFCS is electric.” Department of Human Services and DFCS Director Candice Broce said. “We still have work to do, and we know that you’ve got our back as we work together to improve Georgia’s child welfare system.”

Broce explained DFCS is in the final stages of a deal with a company to streamline services. Saying, to help “more easily pair families with assistance, be it financial, educational, therapeutic, and more.” Adding, it “will make it much easier to navigate the often dizzying and under-utilized way of services and treatment available to vulnerable families through state agency programs and community-based resources.”

DFCS remains under a federal probe. The review announced in February is led by U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff.