Questions Courts Must Ask Before Placing Children in Group Homes

Posted March 28, 2017, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Before assigning young people to group homes or other residential treatment facilities, child welfare judges need more information, according to a report from the Building Bridges Initiative and Association of Children’s Residential Centers. One item on this must-know list: Whether or not professionals have explored all possible placement options for a youth, including living with a family member. 


The Casey Foundation-supported report, Best Practices for Residential Interventions for Youth and their Families, aims to help judges, lawyers and others involved in child welfare and juvenile justice cases identify key components of safe and effective residential programs.

Read the report

To do so, the report’s authors outline specific questions that courts should ask. These include:

  • Did an in-depth assessment indicate that the child’s needs could not be met in a family setting?
  • What steps have occurred to find and involve family members and other positive adult figures who can stay connected to the youth during and after the intervention?
  • Does the treatment facility being considered satisfy all critical components of a safe, quality and effective residential program?
  • Does the discharge plan demonstrate urgency in returning the youth to a home setting, ideally in less than three months?

“In many state and county child welfare systems, youth are assigned lawyers and prosecutors who are not specialists in the field and who may assume that residential facilities are good for teenagers,” says Tracey Feild, director and manager of Casey’s Child Welfare Strategy Group. “This guide shows what a good time-limited program should look like and emphasizes that placement with family and kin should always be pursued first.”

Both the report and an accompanying executive summary draw on research suggesting that young people fare best in nurturing, stable families, and that — when children need residential treatment facilities — they must receive high-quality, short-term care. These facilities also must meet specific standards, including having “a strong and passionate commitment to every youth having a permanent family.”