(The Center Square) — U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, released a finding from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that found 1,790 children in the care of the Georgia Division of Family & Children Services were reported missing between 2018 and 2022.
“These numbers are deeply troubling because these are more than numbers. These are children,” Ossoff said in an announcement. “And 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,” Ossoff added. “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.”
A DFCS spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on the finding. A spokeswoman for Lt. Governor Burt Jones, a Republican, declined to comment, deferring to Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, whose office did not respond to a request for comment.
In February, Ossoff said he launched an inquiry into reports that Georgia officials have failed the children in their care. Ossoff and U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, sent a letter to the state’s DFCS questioning the agency’s ability to protect children in their care.
Additionally, the Senate Study Committee on Foster Care and Adoption is exploring possible solutions to improve the state’s 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.
During a committee hearing last month, 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. Last year, the state spent $28 million to house children in hotels, sometimes for months.
Separately, during a Monday hearing in Atlanta, Paulding County Juvenile Court Judge Carolyn Altman testified the agency is “resisting high mental health needs children” and recounted a meeting she attended in August with roughly 30 other judges and DFCS leadership.
“DFCS Commissioner [Candice] Broce said that DFCS was not set up to be caregivers for these high mental health needs children,” Altman said in a prepared opening statement.
“She asked judges to consider detaining these children — locking them up in a juvenile detention center — for a few days so that DFCS could maybe look for placements,” Altman added. “As judges we do not lock children up, and especially not special-needs kids, because DFCS can’t find a placement for them.”