The Toll of Institutional Placements and the Case for Family-Based Foster Care

Posted December 18, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A white woman sits in front of a sofa and has her arms wrapped around a young black girl and a young white girl.

The Edu­ca­tion and Employ­ment Min­istry (TEEM), an Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion grantee, is a non­prof­it pro­vid­ing learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to peo­ple who are incar­cer­at­ed. As a lead­ing part­ner in the Foundation’s child wel­fare efforts in Okla­homa, it is help­ing engage the state’s child wel­fare change mak­ers to pro­mote fam­i­ly-based fos­ter care and reduce reliance on group place­ment set­tings for chil­dren and youth.

Cross-Sys­tem Collaboration

TEEM brings unique exper­tise to this effort as the com­mu­ni­ty facil­i­ta­tor and leader for the Okla­homa ini­tia­tive. The Casey Foun­da­tion pro­vides tech­ni­cal assis­tance to help the orga­ni­za­tion and its part­ners devel­op a deep­er under­stand­ing of and skills for shared deci­sion-mak­ing as they design child wel­fare solu­tions. The work of end­ing the need for group place­ments requires an under­stand­ing that the respon­si­bil­i­ty of improv­ing fam­i­ly out­comes falls on more than just the child wel­fare system.

Sys­tems have a ten­den­cy to work in silos, but the con­nec­tions are there. And it shows when we talk to indi­vid­u­als who have been impact­ed by the crim­i­nal legal sys­tem and hear that many of them have been in fos­ter care them­selves or are par­ents of chil­dren who have entered care,” says Kris Steele, exec­u­tive direc­tor of TEEM.

To illus­trate these con­nec­tions, TEEM pro­duced Voic­es on the Inside, in which four women incar­cer­at­ed at the Mabel Bas­sett Cor­rec­tion­al Cen­ter reflect on their child­hood and young adult experiences.

The video under­scores the impli­ca­tions of place­ments in insti­tu­tion­al set­tings — not just for adults who are incar­cer­at­ed, but for young peo­ple placed in fos­ter care group set­tings. Each woman shares how sup­port from the child wel­fare sys­tem might have kept their fam­i­lies togeth­er and altered their life tra­jec­to­ries. TEEM shared the video at the 2023 Asso­ci­a­tion for Jus­tice-Involved Females and Orga­ni­za­tions conference.

[TEEM’s] per­spec­tive has allowed us to draw con­nec­tions between the child wel­fare and adult jus­tice sys­tems and gain input from indi­vid­u­als we oth­er­wise wouldn’t have reached,” says Amelia Frank, a senior asso­ciate with Casey’s Fam­i­ly Well-Being Strat­e­gy Group. As seen through Voic­es on the Inside, the expe­ri­ences of adults who have been impact­ed by incar­cer­a­tion are all too close­ly relat­ed to the expe­ri­ences of young peo­ple in fos­ter care who are placed into group settings.”

The Impor­tance of Reduc­ing Group Placements

More than 35,000 U.S. chil­dren, about 9% of all chil­dren in fos­ter care, live in group homes or oth­er insti­tu­tions across the coun­try. Chil­dren of col­or are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly rep­re­sent­ed in these set­tings as their fam­i­lies are less like­ly to be pro­vid­ed alter­na­tives and ser­vices to keep chil­dren with par­ents or kin. Addi­tion­al­ly, chil­dren of col­or tend to start ear­li­er and stay longer in these place­ments than oth­er children.

Young peo­ple describe group place­ments as prison-like, con­fin­ing, restric­tive and degrad­ing — places where they do not feel loved. As such, many who have lengthy stays in group set­tings need sup­port to tran­si­tion suc­cess­ful­ly back into com­mu­ni­ties. In con­trast, fam­i­ly-based fos­ter care offers more oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple to build sta­ble, car­ing rela­tion­ships, par­tic­i­pate in healthy social devel­op­ment activ­i­ties with their peers and remain con­nect­ed to their communities.

Read What Young Peo­ple Say About Group Placements

Learn more About Keep­ing Chil­dren out of Group Placements

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