Too many children in child welfare are not living in families

13 May 2015 Published in Press Release Archive

Salt Lake City – About 56,000 children under the care of our nation’s child welfare systems are not placed in families, including about 400 Utah children. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s latest KIDS COUNT® policy report, Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success discusses how policymakers, judges and private providers can find and support families to help raise more of these children. 

Family placements are superior to group placement because:

  • Research shows that group placements are harmful to a child’s opportunities to develop strong, nurturing attachments.
  • Young people who do not grow up in families are at greater risk of being abused and being arrested.
  • Group placements can cost seven to 10 times the amount it takes to place a child with a relative or foster family.

Many children, especially teens, are sent to a group placement as their very first experience after being removed from home. Residential treatment is a vital option for the small percentage of children who cannot safely live in any family during treatment but forty percent of the children in group placements have no documented behavioral or medical need for residential treatment. Children who do need residential treatment usually need to stay no longer than three to six months, but children are staying in group placements for an average of eight months.

 “We have an obligation to help all of our kids succeed,” said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation. “We would want them to live with someone close to us – and if that couldn’t happen, with a caring foster family who could provide them with as normal a life as possible during a turbulent time. We’d want every chance to participate in decision making and to receive the support we need to get our children back. This report shows more kids can live safely in families and get the nurturing they need while under the care and protection of our child welfare systems.”

Efforts to place children in families vary widely from state to state and even within states. In Utah and nationwide, 84% of children in foster care are placed in families, but Nevada, Oregon, Main and West Virginia exceed the national average with 94% of children in foster care placed in families. At only 64%, Colorado has the lowest percent of foster children placed in families.

KIDS COUNT PR foster FINAL-cover440pxThe report makes the following recommendations for policy and practice change:

  • Increase service options. Communities that provide a wide range of services have more options that enable children to remain safely in families. For example, state and local child welfare and Medicaid agencies should work together to ensure adequate support by the behavioral health system for services that can be conveniently provided in a home setting.
  • Strengthen pool of families. Public and private agencies should do more to find families for children and to make sure those families have the support they need to help children thrive. Washington, D.C.’s Child and Family Services Agency, for example, has created a rapid-response program for locating and licensing kin that finds relatives for children in need day or night.
  • Keep residential treatment short, with family in focus. Residential treatment should be strengthened to meet children’s acute needs in a customized, short-term way that equips young people to live in a family and to maintain family connections throughout treatment. In New York, Children’s Village – one of the country’s first residential treatment centers for children – has greatly expanded its community services and network of foster families in recent years, including foster families prepared to take on the older teens receiving treatment in the facility’s residential cottages
  • Require justification for restrictive placements. Substantial justification should be required by child welfare systems and by the courts before young people are sent to group placements. In Connecticut and Philadelphia, for example, the top child welfare executive must approve all group placements. Judges can require caseworkers to provide regular updates to make sure a child still needs residential treatment.

Every Kid Needs a Family is available at http://www.aecf.org/resources/every-kid-needs-a-family/. Additional information is available in the KIDS COUNT Data Center, which also contains the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being. The Data Center allows users to create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org. KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.