A KIDS COUNT policy report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation highlights the importance of family placements for young people in the child welfare system. The report, which emphasizes that group placements are the least favorable setting for children in foster care, also highlights the promising ways that state and local government leaders, policymakers, judges and private providers can work together as they strive to help the 56,000 children who are living in such settings throughout the country.

In the U.S., 40 percent of young people who live in group facilities while in the child welfare system have no documented behavioral or clinical need to be in such restrictive settings. Such placements have been shown to be harmful to a child’s opportunities to develop strong and nurturing attachments.

“Kids who grow up in families have the best chances for success through life,” said Ivette Rodriguez Stern, the Hawaiʻi KIDS COUNT project director. “Research shows that having secure attachments provided by nurturing caregivers is critical to a child’s healthy physical, social, emotional and psychological development. Young people who don’t grow up in families are at greater risk for poor outcomes as they grow up, such as being arrested.”

Percentages of young people in group placements within states range from as low as 4 percent in Oregon to as high as 35 percent in Colorado. The good news is that Hawaiʻi is doing well with 92 percent of children in foster care living in family settings, and only 7 percent in group placements. Nationally, 84 percent of young people in the child welfare system are in family settings, and 14 percent are in group placements.

Every kid needs a family

Every Kid Needs a Family recommends how communities can widen the selection of services available to help parents and children under stress within their own homes, so that children have a better chance of reuniting with their birth families and retaining bonds important to their development.

“Some of what’s recommended in the policy report is already taking place in Hawaiʻi, which is the good news,” said Marianne Berry, child welfare expert and director of the Center on the Family at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. “For example, Hawaiʻi was recently approved to use federal foster care dollars flexibly to prevent foster care placement of children and expedite permanency for those already in foster care. These efforts will include working with service providers, with families in crisis and with extended family members so that children can move out of the child welfare system and into family settings.”

Helping more children live in families means starting with the families they already have, even those in crisis. Keeping kids connected to family – their kin if not their parents – helps them stay safe and strong. When birth parents cannot care for a child, relatives can offer an existing relationship and connection to the child’s identify and culture, making an eventual return home easier. When kin care is not possible, foster parents play a critical role in nurturing and protecting children until they reside in a permanent family. When properly supported, foster families are capable of caring for the same children who otherwise end up in group placements.

Data from this report is available on the KIDS COUNT Data Center, which also contains the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of measures of child well-being. Data Center users can create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and view real-time information on mobile devices.

A College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources news release