ATLANTA — The number of children in foster care in the State of Georgia is seeing explosive growth.
"I think we've just got a lot of work to do," said Kathy Colbenson, CEO of CHRIS 180, a local child-welfare organization.
Colbenson spoke with Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant about her critical takeaway after another confirmation of Georgia's growing foster care crisis.
"If we didn't know, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, if the numbers weren't increasing, so that's good," Colbenson said.
New state records show the number of kids in state-sponsored foster care skyrocketed from 7,600 in September 2013 to 13,266 last month. That 75 percent increase over three years is the highest in the nation.
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Colbenson pointed to one of many key factors.
"We're seeing a huge crisis in prescription drug abuse, which leads to opioid abuses, and the children are the ones who suffer horrific neglect in some cases," Colbenson explained.
However, the surge in foster cases may also be a sign of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) recent successes.
"This is kind of expected for me," DFCS Director Bobby Cagle told Diamant.
Since director Cagle took over the agency in June 2014, the state has pumped tens of millions of dollars into DFCS to hire hundreds more case workers and ramp up resources such as a statewide reporting hotline, and high-tech tracking systems to keep kids from slipping through the cracks.
"It usually goes hand-in-hand in any system I've ever worked in,” Cagle said. “The higher the number of reports, the higher number of investigations, the higher number of kids coming into care. What really concerns me is the underlying problems that are causing that."
Colbenson told Diamant the surge has led to a shortage in foster care homes.
According to both Cagle and Colbenson, long-term solutions include more state and federal funding for drug abuse and mental-health services.