Georgia DFCS offices used to house at-risk teens

A FOX 5 I-Team investigation finds children in state custody living in conditions the Department of Human Services commissioner calls "unacceptable." Some of the most troubled teens have been bunking in county offices. 

This practice of housing teens is called "office hoteling." It’s meant for emergency situations only, but for many of the state’s most at-risk teens, county offices have become home - sometimes for months. 

The Fulton County office of the Division of Family and Children Services is designed to hold working administrative staff. But, on its upper floors, it has also become dorms for troubled teens. 

"It is something I find unacceptable. It is a practice that I want to eradicate," Candice Broce says.

Broce was appointed commissioner of the Georgia DHS in September. She oversees DFCS. Broce learned quickly what a government report shows, that housing teens in administrative offices and hotels is a troubling nationwide trend. 

Hard-to-place teens have spent weeks sometimes months living in Fulton Co. DFCS offices. 

The practice of staying in hotels or offices is designed for emergencies, which means maximum 23-hour stays, when teens can’t be immediately placed in foster homes. Data provided by DHS shows about 70 teens bunking this way statewide. In Fulton County where they have used offices as living quarters, sources tells us it’s under less than desirable conditions sleeping on cots and couches, eating fast food. 

Records show 31 teens staying longer than overnight - one for more than two months. But more up-to-date records the I-Team gathered, show one teen living out of a county office for more than six and a half months. 

To complicate matters, there are a growing number of parents abandoning their teens to state custody because they can’t find or afford mental health care on their own. 


"You will have a parent who feels that the only way the child is going to be able to access mental health or behavioral health services by giving them up to the state," Broce said.

To help alleviate the situation particularly in DeKalb and Fulton counties, lawmakers gave DHS an added $31 million and have offered foster families a one-time $5,000 payment to take teens living in county offices.

"These youth, the ones that end up having longer stays in an office or a hotel setting, they are behaviorally and medically complex. They have deep-rooted trauma. It's often not as simple as finding a foster family," Broce added.

Since January, South Fulton County police have been called to a DFCS office with teens 30 times. And Atlanta Police have responded to another location 35 times. 

At both addresses, most of the calls have been for runaways.

Broce estimates office hoteling costs $1,200 per day per child. This covers food, mostly take-out, lodging, and round-the-clock staff. 

The newly-appointed commissioner says since the FOX 5 I-Team reached out the director of Fulton County DFCS has stepped down and the Fulton and DeKalb offices have ended office living for teens. We were unable to get a comment from directors at either county office.

"It is my mission, if I have to run myself into the ground and run the agency out of money and into the red, I will do what I can to end the practice of children staying in offices and hotels," Broce said.