Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS)


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Provides DFCS information, fact sheets, mandated reporter training, and more.


Statutes and Regulations

Unfortunately, direct links to the Georgia laws cited on this page are not available.  To find a particular statute, please visit LexisNexis, click on “Georgia Code,” and use the numbers we provide below (three digits separated by hyphens).  Title is the first number (usually 19 or 49), followed by the Article, then the Part.

Child Abuse and Neglect

  • Ga. Code § 19-7-5 — Reporting of child abuse.

Subsection (c)(1) is a list of “mandated reporters,” or professionals who are required to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect to the department, and the rules for when and how they must report.  Reports must be made within 24 hours when the reporter has “reasonable cause to believe a child has been abused.”

  • Ga. Code § 49-5-180 — Definitions.
  • Ga. Policy Manual 3030 § 2101.5 — Definitions.

In Georgia, “child abuse” means “physical injury…inflicted upon a child…by a parent or caretaker…by other than accidental means,” and can include “neglect or exploitation by a parent or caretaker.”  Neglect is further defined as the “failure of a parent/caretaker to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision or emotional care,” to the child, such that “physical injury to a child may occur when appropriate actions by a parent/caretaker are not taken.”

  • Ga. Code § 49-5-180 — Definitions.
  • Ga. Policy Manual 3030 § 2104.23 — Case determination.

When a report of child abuse or neglect is screened in for investigation, the DFCS case worker must decide if the allegation of child abuse or neglect occurred, and determine the level of risk to the child(ren).  There are three possible results of an investigation.  First, an allegation may be “confirmed” or “substantiated,” by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that DFCS finds the available credible evidence that the abuse occurred to be “equal or greater” than the available credible evidence that the abuse did not occur.  Second, the allegation may be “unconfirmed” or “unsubstantiated,” which means that DFCS found “some credible evidence that child abuse occurred, but there is not sufficient credible evidence to classify that child abuse as confirmed.” Finally, “unfounded” means that DFCS found no credible evidence that the allegation occurred.

All parents and legal guardians who come to the attention of DFCS are asked about drug use using the four-question CAGE test to ascertain if there is any alcohol or substance abuse.  If any answer is “yes”, a referral for a formal drug assessment must be given.  “Yes” to one or two questions is considered to potentially indicate “drug-related problems” whereas answering “yes” to three or four questions is likely to indicate “drug dependence.”  Answering “no” to all questions “does not rule out a drug problem.”

DFCS will request a voluntary urinalysis drug test  from a parent or legal guardian in any investigation where there is alleged substance abuse or if there is “corroborating evidence of such or other risk issues are identified.”  This test must be random, with no prior notice, and completed within 24 hours of the request by DFCS.  If the parent does not follow through, or refuses to cooperate, the case worker must consider filing for an involuntary court-ordered drug test.  If a test result is positive, including for marijuana, a parent or legal guardian may be required to participate in a drug monitoring program with random urine testing.

If a report alleges substance abuse by a parent or legal guardian and this is “substantiated,” DFCS will conduct a formal substance abuse evaluation, and will consider the need for drug tests and treatment.  The case worker must document any behavior or factors that could be related to drug abuse, such as “unusual behavior” like aggressiveness, the smell of marijuana in the home or on the parent, significant loss of interest in daily activities, drug paraphernalia in the home, and admitting to use of an illegal drug such as cannabis.  If a parent is noncompliant with a referral for a formal substance abuse assessment or a drug test, the department may take the child or children into state custody.  The parent may be reunited with the child if they become and remain compliant with the department’s treatment plan for their recovery and the transition of their child back into the family home.

If a report is received from medical personnel that the blood of an infant and/or the infant’s mother tests positive for an illegal drug (including marijuana), investigation must be in the timeframe of immediate to within 24 hours.  The mother will be referred  for a formal substance abuse assessment, and the investigation will ascertain the answer to several questions: whether the children are safe or “conditionally safe” in the home, if the living environment is stable (i.e., rent and utilities are current), if the mother “acknowledges the risk her drug use poses to her children,” and if the mother is “willing to cooperate with a formal substance abuse assessment and treatment if required.”  If any answer is “no,” the case worker must file in juvenile court for custody of the infant and any other children in the home as well as for the mother’s involuntary substance abuse treatment.  If the answer to all questions is “yes,” the department must still file for the mother’s court-ordered drug treatment; DCFS may still decide to remove the children from the home if indicated by the formal substance abuse assessment.

There is a specific provision in Georgia law for the reporting of juvenile use of “controlled substances or marijuana.”  In such cases, a report to DFCS must be made unless the knowledge of the child’s controlled substances or marijuana use is gained during counseling or a drug treatment program.  DCFS is obligated to become involved in the life of the child and their family as well to forward all reports of underage use of controlled substances or marijuana to juvenile court.

  • Ga. Code § 49-5-183.1 —  Notice to alleged child abuser of classification.
  • Ga. Code § 49-5-184 — Information to be included in abuse registry; hearing on expungement of name from registry.

A parent who is an alleged child abuser, whether the allegation is “confirmed” or “unconfirmed,” will be placed on the state’s central registry.  Any person whose name appears in the child abuse registry has the right to an administrative hearing where they may challenge their placement on the registry by filing a written request with the county where the investigation was conducted.  If the case was classified as “unconfirmed,” it should be expunged from the abuse registry within two years after that classification.

Previous to this date, all appeals from parents or legal guardians with a “substantiated” case of abuse and/or neglect took place internally in the department, with no external review of the case findings and was a final decision.   Now there are three levels of appeals.  The first is the internal appeal.  The second level of appeal goes to an administrative official outside of the department and the third level of appeal is heard by the DHS Commissioner or assignee.  The decision of the Commissioner is final.

  •  Ga. Code § 49-5-41 — Persons and agencies permitted access to records.

If a parent releases documents from their case to the media, DFCS is then permitted to comment publicly on their case.

At any point after it receives a report of child abuse or neglect, DFCS caseworkers have the ability to file a petition in juvenile court asking the court to declare the child(ren) “deprived” (before January 1, 2014).  A deprived child can mean one who “is without proper parental care or control, subsistence, education as required by law, or other care or control necessary for the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health or morals.”  Beginning January 1, 2014, the juvenile courts will cease to use the term “deprived” and will instead take jurisdiction over children declared to be “dependent,” meaning they have been abused or neglected and are “in need of the protection of the court.”  According to DFCS policy, filing a court petition to have the child declared deprived or dependent “may become necessary” under a number of described circumstances.  Included in the list is “either a newborn infant or the mother, as reported by medical personnel, tests positive for drugs,” and “parents have a significant history of drug or alcohol addiction that is persistently denied or untreated and that renders them unable to care for their children.”

If the juvenile court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the child is deprived or dependent, it takes jurisdiction over the child, allowing the judge to decide matters of care and custody.  The judge will also decide whether the child’s deprivation or dependency is a result of the parent or caretaker’s alcohol or drug abuse.  The court then has the discretion to decide physical custody of the child and to impose a wide variety of conditions on parents and caretakers, including random drug testing and substance abuse treatment.  Failure to comply with the conditions set by the court may result in termination of parental rights.

Other Provisions

  • Ga. Code § 19-7-3 — “Grandparent” defined.

Allows for visitation rights and custody actions for grandparents whose grandchildren are in state custody, including when the parents’ parental rights have been terminated.


State Marijuana Laws

There are no progressive marijuana laws in Georgia.


All Georgia Laws & Penalties (NORML)


Case Law

In the Interest of T.B., 529 S.E.2d 620 (Ga. Ct. App. 2000).  Father’s parental rights were terminated because he was once arrested for marijuana possession and had once tested positive for marijuana.  The Court of Appeal found that this did not reach the level of “clear and convincing evidence of chronic unrehabilitated drug use” that would be grounds for terminating his parental rights, and the decision was reversed.  The court did not reverse the finding that T.B. was “deprived,” but declared that DFACS had failed to prove that father’s misconduct caused T.B.’s deprivation, or that such deprivation was likely to continue and cause serious harm to the child.  The Court of Appeal ordered the juvenile court to create a new reunification plan for the family.

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