Youth Underscore That Group Placements Are No Place to Grow Up in Foster Care

Posted August 2, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

A Black, male teenager smiles, wearing glasses and a denim jacket.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation believes that the young people who have lived in foster care and experienced the trauma of being separated from their families know best what they need to heal those hurts, grow and thrive. In the recently published Think of Us report, Away from Home: Youth Experiences of Institutional Placements in Foster Care, the voices of young people from across the country help illustrate the need to reduce the use of group placements and to prioritize families for all kids and young people in foster care.

Download the report and discussion guide

“People can disagree about the extent to which group placements harm young people, but what can’t be disputed is the youth experience, as told to us through their own words and images in Away From Home,” says Sandra Gasca-Gonzalez, vice president of Casey’s Center for Systems Innovation. “The young people who were brave enough to make themselves loud and clear are telling us, in no uncertain terms, that now is the time to hear, heed and heal. Hear their truth. Heed their wisdom. Help them heal.”

Nearly a year ago, Think of Us, in partnership with the Casey Foundation and Casey Family Programs, began the research for this report, which used qualitative social research methods to learn more about the perspectives, attitudes and experiences of young people with recent experience in group placements. The study included nearly 80 participants, sourced through an open call, who were ages 18 to 25. Participants took part in individual, semi-structured interviews and/or submitted cultural artifacts, such as poems, artworks or photographs, that communicated personal thoughts and feelings of their foster care experience.

Among the report’s findings, the study’s participants:

  • Often vividly remembered their entrance into group placements — even long after they were gone;
  • Reported missing out on normal, age-appropriate activities, crucial to their social development and sense of normalcy;
  • Frequently compared group placements to feeling like prison, and described the environment as confining, restrictive and degrading; and
  • Reported feeling a lack of love, and often blamed themselves and became emotionally shut down or detached.

“This report contains a raw truth and an unequivocal call to action. We can’t unhear or unsee what these young people have opened up their hearts to share with us here in Away From Home,” Gasca-Gonzalez says. “But in all the heartbreak that this report exposes, there is extraordinary hope — and we at the Annie E. Casey Foundation join these and all other young people in believing that there is a better way. And family is the key that unlocks countless doors to heal and thrive.”

Away From Home has already inspired many state and local leaders to join the Casey Foundation in the effort to change the nation’s foster care system by sharing resources, strategies and materials about how to reduce the need for group placements. Those who are interested in being a part of this learning and sharing community may contact Rodney Brittingham, an associate director with Casey Foundation’s Family Well-Being Strategy Group.

National Readout of Away From Home

Join young people who participated in this study, as well as the research team, during a virtual national readout of Away From Home at 3:30 p.m EST on August 5, 2021. RSVP to join the event.

In addition to the national readout, a virtual discussion of Away From Home's methodology is planned for 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2021. RSVP to attend this discussion.

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