For years, watchdogs & advocates have sounded the alarm that Georgia’s Division of Family & Children Services (DFCS) is failing to protect children from abuse and neglect
NEW FINDING: A previously undisclosed DFCS 2023 statewide audit shows the agency fails in 84% of reviewed cases to make concerted efforts to assess and address risk & safety concerns to child(ren) in their own homes or in foster care
Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senate Human Rights Subcommittee Chairman Jon Ossoff is convening a hearing as part of his ongoing bipartisan investigation into the treatment of foster children in the United States.
Chairman Ossoff and Ranking Member Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) will today receive testimony from former foster kids, parents, and experts as part of the Subcommittee’s ongoing bipartisan investigation.
The Subcommittee has found that for years, watchdogs and advocates in Georgia have sounded the alarm that Georgia’s Division of Family & Children Services (DFCS) is failing to protect children from abuse and neglect.
“This is not ultimately an investigation about statistics and bureaucratic terminology,” Chairman Ossoff said in his opening statement. “This is an investigation about children — the most vulnerable children in our nation. Orphaned children. Children who have faced the most extreme forms of abuse and neglect imaginable. Children who have been abandoned. Children who rely upon state agencies and Federal policy, which oversees those state agencies, as their last hope for safety.”
“Two years ago, I became a parent,” Chairman Ossoff continued. “And what we have learned is happening to children in the state’s care and in the care of state agencies across the country is heartbreaking. Instead of safety, too many children have experienced neglect. Abuse. Apathy. Humiliation. Denied and delayed health care. Human trafficking.”
Through its ongoing investigation, the Subcommittee has reviewed audits conducted by DFCS, which measure whether the agency complied with standards set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) related to child welfare.
Chairman Ossoff’s bipartisan probe reviewed DFCS’ previously undisclosed 2023 audit, which found that while the agency initiates timely investigations in 87% of reviewed cases, they systematically fail to actually assess and address the risks and safety concerns in the vast majority of those cases. According to this previously undisclosed 2023 DFCS internal audit, in 84% of reviewed cases, DFCS failed to “make concerted efforts to assess and address risk and safety concerns to the child(ren) in their own homes or in foster care.”
Please find a transcript of Sen. Ossoff’s opening statement below.
CHAIRMAN OSSOFF: “The Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law will come to order.
“8 months ago, as Senator Blackburn and I discussed the highest purposes to which we could apply this Subcommittee, we agreed that protecting our nation’s most vulnerable children was a shared priority and a moral imperative.
“We then opened together this bipartisan inquiry into the welfare of children in foster care.
“To date, the Subcommittee has interviewed over 100 witnesses and sources and has reviewed thousands of pages of records.
“And this work continues today with our first public hearing on the human rights of foster children in the United States.
“I thank you, Ranking Member Blackburn, for your participation and ongoing contributions to this bipartisan effort, which demonstrates to the nation that elected officials in Washington can put the interests of children above partisan politics.
“Naturally, representing the state of Georgia, I’ve taken a particular interest in the health, safety, and treatment of children in my state.
“In recent years, multiple independent oversight bodies in Georgia have raised the alarm in recent years about serious failures to protect children from abuse and neglect.
“In 2021, according to Georgia’s Office of the Child Advocate, or ‘OCA,’ Georgia DFCS received reports directly from several local Child Advocacy Centers and from the statewide Child Advocacy Centers of Georgia of failures, of which OCA characterized as evidence of ‘systemic threats to children who are victims of physical and sexual abuse.’
“The following year, in 2022, OCA issued a report outlining 15 breakdowns within DFCS, which OCA described as ‘systemic,’ and reported that in all cases they reviewed to produce their report, ‘DFCS failed to take adequate steps to respond to allegations of physical and sexual abuse,’ and that OCA itself encountered those same systemic failures, ‘consistently throughout the state through OCA’s day-to-day investigative work.’
“In response to the OCA investigation, Georgia DFCS vehemently denied OCA’s findings. But OCA stood by its report.
“Last year, Georgia DFCS received many millions of dollars of Federal funding. And as part of this inquiry, the Subcommittee has reviewed in detail DFCS’ own audits of its compliance with Federal safety standards to protect children in their care.
“Here’s what we found.
“DFCS does initiates timely investigations in almost 90% of the abuse and neglect reports that were audited.
“But DFCS systematically fails to actually address the risks and safety concerns associated with these children.
“According to DFCS’ own internal assessment, DFCS fails in 84% of cases to, ‘make concerted efforts to assess and address risks and safety concerns to children in their own homes or in foster care,’ which is a Federal child protection benchmark.
“According to HHS documentation, failing to assess risk and manage safety includes:
“Failing to report or formally assess and investigate maltreatment allegations about a family.
“Failing to substantiate those allegations, despite evidence that would support substantiation.
“And closing cases before safety concerns are adequately addressed.
“But this is not ultimately an investigation about statistics and bureaucratic terminology. This is an investigation about children — the most vulnerable children in our nation.
“Children who have faced the most extreme forms of abuse and neglect imaginable.
“Children who have been abandoned.
“Children who rely upon state agencies and Federal policy which oversees those state agencies as their last hope for safety.
“Two years ago, I became a parent.
“And what we have learned is happening to children in the state’s care and in the care of state agencies across the country is heartbreaking.
“Instead of safety, too many children have experienced neglect.
“Denied and delayed health care.
“I want to emphasize that this is an active and ongoing inquiry.
“Today, we will hear firsthand testimony from children and parents who have suffered from systemic failures to protect vulnerable children.
“We’ll also hear from experts witnesses who will explain that these stories we hear today illustrate broader and longstanding failures to protect the most vulnerable children in Georgia and across the nation.
“I again thank Ranking Member Blackburn for her support and for her invaluable contributions to this bipartisan effort.
“I know having worked closely with Senator Blackburn over the last year how deeply she cares about the welfare of children.
“I have seen her passion displayed time and time again as an advocate for vulnerable children.
“And it is imperative that this work spur the long-overdue reform necessary both at the state level and in Federal policy to protect America’s most vulnerable children.
“I thank you all for your presence today and will now yield to Ranking Member Blackburn for her opening remarks.”
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