Georgia officials push back on Ossoff foster children report

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(The Center Square) — The Georgia Division of Family & Children Services should “deepen its cooperation” with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children “to fully understand the scope of potential sex trafficking of youth in the state’s care.”

That’s among the nine recommendations in a 64-page report U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, released following a 13-month investigation into the safety of foster children by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights. The report also called on state officials to “strengthen independent oversight of the child welfare system.”

However, the state agency responsible for foster children is rebutting the report, questioning Ossoff’s staff’s “expertise” and saying the finding omits or ignores key details.

“The most vulnerable children in our state and in our nation must be protected from physical abuse, from sexual abuse, and from human trafficking,” Ossoff said in a statement. “We cannot and must not look away from these findings, though they are deeply distressing. We cannot accept the abuse, the trafficking, and the preventable death of children.”

In February 2023, Ossoff launched an inquiry following reports of failures in the state’s foster care system, including reports that the state spent $28 million in 2022 to house children in hotels, sometimes for months. Ossoff and U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, fired off a letter to the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services questioning the agency’s ability to protect children in their care.

The subcommittee held four public hearings and interviewed more than 100 witnesses, including juvenile court judges and former foster youth, and members also reviewed thousands of pages of documents. In October, Ossoff released a National Center for Missing and Exploited Children finding indicating 1,790 children in the agency’s care were reported missing between 2018 and 2022.

However, Georgia officials have repeatedly disputed Ossoff’s claims. In September, Candice Broce, commissioner of the Department of Human Services and director of DFCS, said the state had no foster children in hotels.

“After taking months to produce a report — written and supported solely by staff of the majority party — the subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law provided DFCS and the state only two days to respond to a heavily redacted version of the final report,” a Georgia Department of Human Services spokesperson told The Center Square in a Wednesday statement. “Highlighting Senator Ossoff’s staff’s obvious lack of subject matter expertise regarding complex child welfare issues, the subcommittee’s report omits key context, ignores relevant data that undermine the report’s primary assertions, and takes great lengths to misrepresent DFCS actions, facts about various cases, and outcomes for many children in the state’s care.

“Not included in the subcommittee’s report are DFCS’s improvements in addressing the issue of hoteling, strengthening rigorous safeguards for the children in our care, and streamlining service delivery,” the spokesperson added. “Our staff and leadership take our responsibility to Georgia’s at-risk youth with the utmost seriousness and will continue to identify and implement solutions that better serve those in our care. We encourage Senator Ossoff to focus his efforts on putting the welfare of children above political gamesmanship.”

Lt. Governor Burt Jones also criticized the report in a statement.

“I, along with many of my Senate colleagues, have worked tirelessly to turn DFCS around,” Jones said. “It’s not perfect, and there’s still a long way to go, but Commissioner Broce and many dedicated public servants at the department have made real progress to improve the lives of kids in our state. They deserve our support, not partisan political attacks.”