In the last decade, a strategy consulting group within the Casey Foundation has worked with public systems to reduce their use of institutional placements (called “congregate care”) for children and youth in child welfare systems. The strategy of reducing reliance on congregate care has better outcomes for children and families, strengthens neighborhoods through support of community-based services, and cost savings that can be reinvested into evidence-based family supports.
Reforming congregate care can have tertiary benefits that provoke an agency to change their approach.
Findings & Stats
New York City Example
In New York City, the number of children exiting the system to permanent families reduced the foster care population by 27% from 1996 to 2001. But, the number of teens in the system had increased, and nearly two-thirds were ending up in congregate care, often “aging out” with few prospects.
New York City Example Cont'd
The number of congregate care beds dropped by 47% from 2002 to 2008. Reducing congregate care saved more than $41 million, a portion of which was reinvested in supportive and aftercare services. Initial placements for two-thirds of teens entering the system were now in family settings, up from one-third in 2003.
In Maine, a child fatality within the system prompted dramatic reform. 200 children were in residential placements compared to 747 in July 2004, a 73% decrease. 30% of children were living in kinship care placements, compared with 12% in January 2003.
Maine Example Cont'd
In Maine, 40% of children discharged to adoption spent less than two years in care, compared to 26.8% of children nationwide. $4 million was invested in community programs from the $10.4 million saved overall.
In Louisiana, hurricanes Katrina and Rita overloaded the office of community services, and prompted reform. In 2008, 411 children were in residential care, down from 611 in January 2006, a 33% decrease. In 2008, there were 700 new foster homes in the state, compared to 496 in 2006.
Louisiana Example Cont'd
They discovered that youth remain in congregate care longer than two years primarily because no one had assessed whether they could live in a family setting.
In 2007, Virginia’s First Lady Anne Holton contacted the Casey Foundation with a request to improve permanency for teens, the largest group of young people in state congregate care facilities.
Virginia Example Cont'd
By March 2009: (1) 27% reduction in the number of children in congregate care from 2007. (2) In localities where new steering committees were put in to place. (3) 14% drop in foster care population while statewide the number went down only by 11%. (4) Family-based placements increased by 9%, compared to only 5% nationwide. (5) Discharges to permanent families were up 14%, compared to only 5% nationwide.
Statements & Quotations
Rightsizing congregate care is a promising entry point to real improvements in the lives of children and families. It has proven to be a successful strategy across diverse public systems over an extended period of time.
Our early experience found reform efforts that started with congregate care were able to achieve success very quickly. Congregate care became an appealing starting point for larger reform since its quick results provided for deeper and ongoing change.