Dozens of Georgia foster children were dropped from state custody while they were missing from care, even after the state eliminated a policy allowing the practice, a Channel 2 Action News investigation uncovered.
The previous policy, which was eliminated in December 2016, allowed the division to ask a judge to remove the Division of Family and Children Services as the guardian of a child in temporary foster care when the minor had been missing for more than six months.
Channel 2 discovered more than 50 instances, since the policy change, in which foster children were “removed from custody” before their 18th birthday. DFCS has since pledged a review of those cases.
After Channel 2's inquiry, DFCS sent a memorandum to its staff on May 22 clarifying its policy on children missing from foster care. The memorandum stated, in part, "DFCS shall not seek to be relieved of custody of a child in temporary or permanent custody of DFCS based on the child being missing. DFCS shall maintain an open case and continue efforts to locate the child and address the concerns that brought the child into foster care."
The memorandum also explained that missing children are extremely vulnerable and are at risk of exploitation, and reinforced the division's “responsibility to conduct a comprehensive search to locate the child and ensure the child’s safety and well-being.”
Carr learned that nearly 400 Georgia foster children under the care of the state are missing each year. According to DFCS, most are teens who run away to visit friends or family and quickly return to care. Carr also discovered that more than 30 percent of foster children who run away do so more than one time. An average of 30 children a year turn 18 while they are missing from care. DFCS listed those missing foster teens as “emancipated” in records provided to Channel 2 in an open records request.
Michael Franks told Carr he thought his sister, 17-year-old Dennetta Franks, was visiting family when she ran away from foster care in September 2017.
“She called me. She was real frantic. She said she needed help. She said she needed to get out of there,” Franks said.
Franks had previously fostered a younger brother, but was serving in the U.S. Army when Dennetta went into DFCS custody. DFCS denied Franks guardianship of Dennetta because of his military deployment.
When Franks received Dennetta’s call, he learned she was living in a Columbus hotel while DFCS looked for long-term care.
When Dennetta ran away last September, she asked her brother to drive her to Atlanta.
“I knew she wanted to see my dad,” Franks told Carr. “That’s the only reason I took her there. I didn’t know that would be the biggest mistake I’d make.”
Days after arriving in the city, Dennetta was found shot to death in northwest Atlanta.
Channel 2 Investigates:
Cox Media Group