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Atlanta, Ga. — Today at a U.S. Senate Human Rights Subcommittee hearing in Atlanta, Georgia juvenile court judges testified that the Director of Georgia’s Division of Family & Children Services (DFCS) asked juvenile court judges to consider locking up children with special needs in a juvenile detention center.
Over the course of the hour-long hearing, the Honorable Carolyn Altman, a juvenile court judge in Paulding County, and the Honorable Nhan-Ai Simms, a juvenile court judge in Gwinnett County, testified to their experiences interacting with children in Georgia’s foster care system and Georgia’s DFCS.
Judge Altman testified, “I attended a meeting in August this year, with about 30 other judges and DFCS leadership. DFCS Commissioner Broce said that DFCS was not set up to be caregivers for these children, and she asked judges to consider detaining the children – locking them up in a juvenile detention center for a few days – so that DFCS could maybe find a placement for them. As judges we do not lock up children, especially special-needs children, because we cannot find a place for them.”
Sen. Ossoff asked Judge Altman about her testimony and the legality of the alleged DFCS request to “consider detaining the children.”
Judge Altman testified that DFCS’ request to consider locking up children with special needs in a juvenile detention center “is not lawful.”
When asked about the same meeting with DFCS’ leadership, Judge Simms testified she was “heartbroken.”
“I think if our child welfare system has gotten to the point where we want to extend a child’s time and in detention just because we can't find a place for them, then something’s wrong, and it’s not working. And we need change. And you know, it's kind of one of those things when you hear executive leadership, when you hear executive counsel say it, I was shocked,” Judge Simms testified.
Judge Altman also testified that when a fellow judge informed that the law “prohibits detaining a child because of lack of placement,” DHS General Counsel said they could change the law.
“And when we were in this meeting, again, this was not private. It was not overheard in passing. It was in a room of 30 something judges. One of my colleagues brought that up and said the law specifically prohibits detaining a child because of lack of placement. And then General Counsel Regina Quick, says, ‘well, we can change that,’” Altman said.