ATLANTA — The state of Georgia shelled out $28 million last year to the Department of Children and Family Services to put foster children up in hotels, sometimes for months at a time, Channel 2 Action News has learned.
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Now, state leaders are calling the practice a failure in the system.
Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Ashli Lincoln talked to one foster family who said that housing kids in hotels while they wait for foster homes is a growing problem.
Julie and Jeff Selander said that a 12-year-old boy they were attempting to foster was kept in a series of hotels from Canton to Waycross for months.
“So a 12-year-old can move from hotel to hotel with no education,” Julie Selander said. “He’s not received any education. Two days later, I get a text message saying that they’re just going to keep him at the hotel.”
Selander said that the money it’s costing taxpayers to keep foster children in hotels is “outrageous.”
Lincoln found that at $1,500 a night, it costs more money to place a foster child in a hotel than it does for the average person to book a night at the Four Seasons.
The state has spent roughly $250,000 in taxpayer funds to house the 12-year-old alone.
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State Senator Nikki Merritt said that not only is the practice called “hoteling” hugely expensive, but it’s also a detriment to the development of the children.
“We’re taking kids already traumatized mentally, physically and behaviorally and now we’re exposing them to more trauma,” Merritt said.
Merritt said prolonged hotel stays result in inconsistent schooling, isolation from peers and inadequate mental health services.
This month, the director of DCFS announced plans to introduce legislation to end the practice of hoteling. But Merritt said that after six years that DFCS has been hoteling children, it’s time for a change now.
“I’m really beyond the hearings. We had a hearing. We hear what the problem is. We need to start talking solutions right now,” Merritt said.
DCFS said they lean on the practice because there are few placements for children due to a lack of foster families and understaffed childcare institutions.
Selander said the system is providing a roof and food for the kids, but that’s about it. She said that she doesn’t understand why the state hasn’t permanently placed the 12-year-old boy in their home if it costs so much to put him up in a hotel.
“The system is failing him,” Selander said. “His mother is homeless. If something doesn’t change, he’s going to end up just like his mom.”
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