State reduces foster children staying in hotels, offices to zero — for a night



Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services reduced the number of children in foster care being temporarily housed in hotels or offices to zero earlier this month, top officials said.

Candice Broce, who serves as the DFCS director and commissioner of the Department of Human Services, said that on Sept. 8 there were no foster children living in hotels or offices for lack of foster homes.

“After months and months — years — of our agency, through DFCS, focusing on ending hoteling and trying as many different strategies and creative ideas that we could possibly fathom ... on Sept. 8, we reached zero,” Broce on Tuesday told a panel of state senators who are studying foster care and adoption issues. “We had, on that night, no child in our custody staying in a hotel or office.”

Hoteling has persisted for years in Georgia and across the country. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the practice became more commonplace: Not as many families were fostering children as the virus spread, and group homes lost staff to better paying and less stressful jobs. That all resulted in fewer placements for youth, resulting in children staying in hotels and even office spaces.

Also, many of the children who end up living in hotels or offices are those who are difficult to place due to developmental, mental health or behavioral issues.

DFCS officials estimate it costs an average of $1,200 a day to pay for food and lodging — when staying in a hotel — for each child and the wages of multiple staff members to ensure 24/7 supervision. That also factors in the cost of damage to the buildings, as things are often broken.

Between June 2021 and June 2022, while several children were being housed in Fulton County DFCS offices on Fairburn Road, Atlanta police responded to 246 calls for service. The majority of those calls were for reports of missing people, but several were in response to more serious offenses, such as the arrests of teens accused of assaulting staff or each other and at least one instance where police reported having to use force to detain a foster child.

Broce called getting the number down a “huge” and “emotional” milestone, but she noted it was a moving target. Since then, she said, the number has hovered around zero.

On Monday night, three Georgia children spent the night in a hotel: a 17-year-old girl in Douglas County who may be a victim of human trafficking, a 10-year-old boy in Stephens County who Broce said has “extreme behaviors” and a “very traumatic past,” and a 14-year-old Coffee County boy with “extreme behaviors” who had been discharged from an emergency room Monday.

Earlier this year, Georgia had more than 10,500 kids in foster care, and about this time last year, Broce said, it wasn’t unusual for there to be up to 70 children being kept in a hotel on the same night.