Children in Foster Care Increasingly Likely to Live in Families

Posted April 2, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Family First Act Poised to Help States Keep More Kids Connected to Families, But New KIDS COUNT State-by-State Data Show Stagnation for Teens and Persistent Racial Disparities

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion today released Keep­ing Kids in Fam­i­lies: Trends in U.S. Fos­ter Care Place­ment,” using data from child wel­fare sys­tems across all 50 states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia over a 10-year peri­od to look at how place­ments for young peo­ple in fos­ter care have changed. The report finds that nation­wide care sys­tems placed 86% of these chil­dren in fam­i­lies in 2017, com­pared with 81% in 2007. But despite this improve­ment, the data reveal the group place­ment rate for teens has remained stag­nant, and there are per­sis­tent racial dis­par­i­ties for chil­dren of all ages in fos­ter care.

Read or down­load Keep­ing Kids in Families”

Being part of a fam­i­ly is a basic human need and essen­tial to well-being, espe­cial­ly for chil­dren, teenagers and young adults who are rapid­ly devel­op­ing and tran­si­tion­ing to inde­pen­dence, as doc­u­ment­ed in the Casey Foundation’s 2015 report, Every Kid Needs a Fam­i­ly. The new data sug­gest a grow­ing con­sen­sus among prac­ti­tion­ers and pol­i­cy­mak­ers that young peo­ple in the child wel­fare sys­tem should live in fam­i­lies. Through the fed­er­al Fam­i­ly First Pre­ven­tion Ser­vices Act, signed into law in 2018, states are empow­ered to pri­or­i­tize fam­i­ly place­ment and high-qual­i­ty, fam­i­ly-cen­tered set­tings which pro­duce the best out­comes for young people.

Child wel­fare sys­tems are mak­ing progress in keep­ing chil­dren with fam­i­lies, which we know leads to bet­ter out­comes for young peo­ple,” said Lisa Hamil­ton, the Casey Foundation’s pres­i­dent and CEO. But sys­tems must do more to find fam­i­lies for teenagers and youth of col­or. We see suc­cess in sev­er­al states, and oth­er juris­dic­tions could apply these lessons.”

Key find­ings from Keep­ing Kids in Fam­i­lies” include:

  • For teenagers, progress in fam­i­ly place­ments has been elu­sive. Nation­wide, more than a third of young peo­ple in child wel­fare sys­tems who are 13 and old­er lived in group place­ments in 2017 — the same pro­por­tion as 10 years ago.
  • A break­down by race shows that progress is high­ly uneven. Sys­tems increased the place­ment rate of white youth in fam­i­ly homes from 81% to 87%, but out­comes for Lati­no and African-Amer­i­can chil­dren improved by just 3 per­cent­age points, and by just 1 per­cent­age point for Asian Amer­i­can children.
  • Place­ment in fos­ter fam­i­lies to whom chil­dren were not relat­ed dipped slight­ly, from 46% to 45%.

Plac­ing young peo­ple with rel­a­tives or close friends when they can­not live with their birth fam­i­lies helps min­i­mize the trau­ma of removal, main­tain­ing vital con­nec­tions and often keep­ing sib­ling groups togeth­er. Chil­dren in kin place­ments are gen­er­al­ly less like­ly to run away, and rel­a­tives are less like­ly to request that chil­dren be removed when their behav­ior becomes difficult.

The Fam­i­ly First Act can pro­vide state lead­ers with pol­i­cy sup­port and fed­er­al resources to keep the focus on fam­i­ly place­ment for the ben­e­fit of young peo­ple,” said Tracey Feild, direc­tor of the Casey Foundation’s Child Wel­fare Strat­e­gy Group. Since some states have shown improve­ments keep­ing young peo­ple in fam­i­lies, we know that it can be done and that all states can improve.”

The Casey Foun­da­tion calls on state child wel­fare sys­tems to use the oppor­tu­ni­ties afford­ed by Fam­i­ly First to increase avail­able ser­vices to sta­bi­lize fam­i­lies. Sim­i­lar­ly, states can:

  • Pri­or­i­tize recruit­ment of kin and fos­ter fam­i­lies for old­er youth and youth of col­or in recruit­ment planning;
  • Engage fam­i­lies in deci­sion mak­ing, since kin and fos­ter par­ents should be treat­ed as impor­tant mem­bers of a child’s team;
  • Require direc­tor approval for non-kin placements.

Keep­ing Kids in Fam­i­lies” shows real progress in some states. Six­teen states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia placed 90 per­cent or more of young peo­ple in fam­i­lies in 2017, show­ing that oth­ers can do the same. The Casey Foun­da­tion encour­ages advo­cates, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and child wel­fare lead­ers to use this infor­ma­tion to cre­ate bet­ter out­comes for youth who have expe­ri­enced the fos­ter care system.

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