In recent years, Georgia has increasingly depended on private agencies to place children in foster homes and group homes. The state has also depended on these private agencies to supervise much of the care the children receive. The result has been appalling. A recent investigation by the Atlanta Journal Constitution revealed that incidents of rape, molestation, assault, neglect, abuse and suicide attempts are regular occurrences at many of the group and foster homes across Georgia.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution has the story.
Currently, about half of the children in state care reside in private facilities. That number comes to about 4,000 children. Ten years ago only 10% of foster children resided in private facilities. And while numerous rules and regulations are in place to protect children from abuse and neglect, state monitors have not been able to keep up with the dramatic increase in private foster and group homes. The failure to adequately monitor these private homes has also meant a large increase in violations. In many cases, these violations simply go unnoticed or unpunished.
In total, there are 336 private agencies in Georgia which place children into foster homes and group homes. Since 2008, the state has issued approximately 1,100 citations to 300 of these homes for foster care violations. However, the state doled out fines in only 7% of those cases. When fines were issued, the median amount was only $500. Perhaps most shocking of all is the amount of state funding that many of these private agencies receive. For example, 100 of the 336 agencies received approximately $55 million in direct funding from the state last year. Of those agencies, 90% have been cited for violations since 2008.
Some violations are simply technical in nature. However, in many cases, state officials have excused or overlooked serious, and repeated, violations. In one case, the state turned over an abused, autistic 8-year-old boy to the care of Trek, a foster care agency operated by the Lookout Mountain Community Services Board. Trek then placed the boy into a contracted foster home. Around the same time, Trek also placed a 17-year-old boy with a long and documented history of sexual problems into the same foster home. A month later the 17-year-old molested the 8-year-old. An investigation revealed that Trek never told the house parents about the 17-year-old’s problems or tendencies. In response to Trek’s negligence, the state of Georgia issued Trek a $300 fine.
Benchmark Family Services of Jonesboro and Choices for Life of Georgia in Valdosta also committed similar acts which resulted in the sexual abuse of foster children. However, no fines were issued in those cases.
The abuse that foster children suffer is not always sexual in nature. For instance, a foster parent for Bethany Christian Services of Atlanta left a wheelchair-bound child alone on several occasions. On one such occasion, a social worker found the child lying on the basement floor in his own excrement. His wheelchair was later found upstairs.
Other cases deal with an agency’s attempt to control a child’s behavior. In one case, Mercy’s Door in Dalton allegedly performed a forced exorcism on one of its foster children. Other agencies try to drug their foster children in order to make them more compliant. The Youth Estate group home near Brunswick, which is run by Morningstar Treatment Services, apparently used anti-psychotic drugs on children any time they would “act up.” Morningstar received two warnings before the state finally issued a $450 fine.
The state’s unwillingness or inability to enforce the regulations governing foster care homes leaves foster children with few advocates or protections. And the children who have been abused or neglected often have no recourse or hope of receiving the counseling they need and deserve. However, there is hope. Under Georgia law, abused foster children can file suit against the foster agency and foster home which committed or allowed the abuse.
Our firm recently filed suit against Turning Point Homes, a group home in DeKalb County, for allowing our clients to be repeatedly sexually abused. As in every foster home abuse case, we hope that by filing suit we can punish those responsible and attain the funding our clients need to carry on a normal life. We also hope that our efforts will prevent future abuses from occurring to other children trapped in Georgia’s foster care system.
Page Pate is an accomplished trial lawyer with over 25 years of experience in criminal defense, civil litigation, and whistleblower representation. Page is listed in The Best Lawyers in America, Top 100 Lawyers by The National Trial Lawyers, and named to the list of Super Lawyers for the past 15 consecutive years. Page is a frequent expert legal analyst for local and national media and has served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Georgia Law School. Read Page’s reviews on AVVO. Follow Page on Twitter @pagepate and on Linkedin.