The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Human Rights is launching an investigation into Georgia’s foster care system, and possibly other states as well.
The investigation will look into the agency’s care of abused and sexually trafficked youth, its practice of housing children in offices and hotel rooms and how it handles allegations of abuse against teens, according to a Feb. 17 letter to Georgia Human Services Commissioner Candice Broce obtained by Youth Services Insider. The committee is also looking into staffing issues and their impact on the care provided to children.
“Recent official and press reports raise serious concerns about the ability of Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to ensure the safety and well-being of children in its care,” subcommittee leaders Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) wrote in the letter.
Subcommittee staff confirmed to Youth Services Insider that Georgia is currently the only state it is currently probing. The letter states that the subcommittee is “conducting a review of matters related to children’s safety and wellbeing in foster care,” and does not specify that Georgia would be the only state of interest.
Tom Rawlings, the former head of Georgia’s child welfare system, speculated in a Substack column that Sen. Blackburn’s home state of Tennessee may soon get a similar letter from the subcommittee, noting a recent state audit slamming that department’s care of children.
The letter to Broce points to a December exposé in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that cites findings by the state’s Office of the Child Advocate that DFCS was “no longer adequately responding to child abuse cases,” and that this failure resulted in the death of a toddler known to the system.
The OCA memo also alleges that the department holds that teenagers are able to “self-protect” from some abuse and neglect, and “do not need assistance” in cases including allegations of parental drug use, general neglect or sexual abuse by a sibling.
The subcommittee is also looking into the use of hotels to house children in foster care following reporting from WSB-TV in Atlanta that the state had spent $28 million in 2022 on hotel rooms for youth in state care, according to a press release announcing the investigation.
Ossoff and Blackburn’s letter directs Broce to, by March 10, send the committee documentation regarding:
- Its policies on abuse allegations involving teenage victims
- How the department decides to close or upgrade cases, and what percentage of cases are closed and reopened
- The number of abuse reports made in recent years and the number sustained
- The number of children in hotels and offices, which hotels they are living in and how the department ensures children’s safety there, and information on contracted personnel being used to supervise children in these settings
- Data on turnover and vacant positions at the department.
This is not the first federal probe into child welfare work in recent years. In 2017, the Senate Finance Committee, led by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) published a report excoriating privatized foster care after investigating reports that dozens of children died under the care of the for-profit foster care provider The MENTOR Network.
Ossoff and Blackburn state that, as funders of child welfare services, the federal government “has a responsibility to conduct oversight and ensure that funding recipients, like DFCS, are keeping children under their care safe.”
”While these issues may have started before your tenure,” Ossoff and Blackburn warn Georgia officials, “they can and must end under your watch.”