On Thursday, December 14, 2023, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law held it’s fourth hearing on foster care as part of the bipartisan inquiry into Georgia’s child welfare system. Subcommittee Chairman Jon Ossoff (D-GA) opened the hearing by reminding those in the room that “we are talking about the most vulnerable children in the United States,” and explaining the investigation’s progress so far, stating that the Subcommittee has found “significant evidence that children have been left vulnerable to abuse and neglect,” in foster care and that these issues are not present in Georgia alone, but that there are national concerns as well.

Rebecca Jones Gaston, Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spoke about the efforts of ACYF to prioritize prevention services, collaboration with other systems, and inclusion of stories and perspectives from people with lived expertise. She explained the Child and Family Services Plan (CFSP) and the Child And Family Services Review (CFSR) process that serves as the oversight mechanism for tribal and state child welfare programs. The Commissioner also noted that child wellbeing is a communal responsibility, and the child welfare system alone cannot achieve it. Ms. Jones Gaston was questioned further about the oversight of the foster care system, including the penalties levied for states’ failures to improve.

Jose Perez, Deputy Assistant Director of the Criminal Investigative Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was the second witness for the hearing, testifying to the FBI’s processes for investigating and recovering children from foster care who go missing or who are victims of trafficking. Mr. Perez spoke to the FBI’s collaborations with local law enforcement and other community agencies in completing this work.

Subcommittee Chairman Ossoff and Ranking Member Blackburn (R-TN) were the only members of the subcommittee present; Chairman Ossoff asked most of the questions. The hearing ended with both the Commissioner and the Assistant Director committing to cooperating with the ongoing investigation and providing follow-up information.