Lawmakers push to end foster care ‘hoteling’ in Georgia

Lawmakers push to end foster care ‘hoteling’ in Georgia
Published: Feb. 17, 2023 at 9:56 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 17, 2023 at 11:46 PM EST
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) — On any given night, dozens of children are sleeping in hotels and offices across the state, waiting for a foster care home.

“We have been hell-bent on ending “hoteling.” A practice born out of necessity, but one that contradicts our mission, crushes our workforce and derails lifesaving work,” Department of Human Services Commissioner, Candice Broce said.

Broce says children are often refused from homes, crisis stabilization units and psychiatric treatment facilities as a result of “complex needs.”

“Demand far exceeds supply for complex children,” Broce said. “If a child is suicidal, homicidal, suffering from active addiction, sexually or physically aggressive, delinquent or disabled, we may be wholly unable to find an appropriately equipped foster care for placement.”

As a result, on any given night in Georgia, Broce says that roughly 50 to 70 children in foster care with complex needs will sleep in a local Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) office or hotel.

The agency spends an average of $1,500 state per night to put a foster child in a hotel. The cost includes room, contracted behavior aid, food, transportation and property damage.

“You cannot make progress on your foster care cases if you’re supervising a high-needs child in the office or a hotel room,” Broce said. “Burnout is imminent. And once you quit, your caseload is immediately redistributed among the remaining resilient few.”

Dr. Michelle Zeanah, a Statesboro, Georgia pediatrician, suggested the state approach behavioral health emergencies differently.

“For foster children in crisis — let’s flip things around just like it is for emergency surgery,” Zeanah said. “Instead of having to do a prior authorization before you can get services, do the prior authorization after the services. If they’re not deemed medically necessary, then the guardian, which would be DFCS is on the hook. If we treated behavioral health emergencies the same way, then children wouldn’t languish while they’re waiting on prior authorization.”

In the 2022 state fiscal year, DFCS spent $28,075,906 on hoteling. Through November of the 2023 fiscal year, the state has spent nearly $16 million.

“The battle continues, but to win the war, we need reinforcements,” Broce said. “We must address the pipeline of children entering our custody and ending up hoteled when they should’ve never entered foster care. It only takes what feels like a handful of those cases to upend the entire system.”

According to the Department of Administrative Services, DFCS has a higher turnover rate, 30.3%, than the state government as a whole. Between fiscal years 2017 and 2022, DFCS lost 16% of its workforce.

However, 63% of the proposed 2024 DHS budget is geared toward foster care and adoption.