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 Homes method­ol­o­gy is planned for 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 9, 2021. RSVP to attend this dis­cus­sion.

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