Keeping Children Out of Group Placements: Strategies and Alternatives
What Will It Take to Transform and Eliminate Unnecessary Uses of Congregate Care by 2030?
Every child deserves to grow up in a family instead of an institution. To help child welfare systems identify practices that may reduce their reliance on group placements, Lutheran Services in America examined initiatives used by its providers. Transforming Congregate Care: A White Paper on Promising Policy and Practice Innovation, a new report, distills their findings. It highlights promising programs and practices as guideposts for future child welfare reforms.
“There is no substitute for a family when children and young people are working through their hurt and pain,” says Sandra Gasca-Gonzalez, vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Center for Systems Innovation. “We must support families to remain together and serve children based on their needs within their community rather than in institutions. With inventive problem-solving solutions such as the Congregate Care Elimination Discovery Initiative, we can create the better, more equitable future that all children, families and communities deserve.”
Transforming Congregate Care was produced by Antonio Oftelie, a Lutheran Services in America board member and executive director of Leadership for a Networked World at Harvard University. The Congregate Care Elimination Discovery Initiative, funded by the Casey Foundation, conducted the research.
More than 55,000 children live in group placements, about 14% of all children in foster care in this country. This population is disproportionately made up of children of color, especially Black children. Kids of color also tend to start earlier and stay longer in these programs than other children, because child welfare systems more frequently separate Black families rather than seek alternatives that keep children with parents or kin.
Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota (LSSSD) offers an “exemplary case study” of a solution that slowed a stream of children entering care. There, data revealed that judges often sent children to group placements when their families failed to show up in court. This affected many children of color. LSSSD responded by designating a “Racial and Ethnic Fairness Case Manager,” who helps families obtain a translator, transportation or education to navigate the juvenile justice system.
Since creating the position, “LSSSD has seen a reduction in the number of warrants and observed a shift in the mindset among professionals in the court system,” the paper says. “Focusing on holistic outcomes can strengthen youth and families,” help address racial inequities and more appropriately support each family’s needs, the report says. Practices documented by the six providers offer hope for future reforms.
“As providers and policymakers move forward, they can leverage the work of this cohort and implement proven strategies to eliminate the unnecessary reliance on congregate care and deliver better outcomes for children,” Oftelie wrote.