PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island has the second-highest percentage of children in foster care not living with families, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s latest Kids Count policy report, “Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success.”
Colorado was the only state with a higher figure at 35 percent, the report said.
Of the 1,803 children in foster care in 2013 in Rhode Island, 28 percent were placed in non-family settings, a rate that is more than twice the national average, the report said.
“We need to focus on prevention to reduce the number of children in DCYF care. For those who are in DCYF care, we know that children who are placed with families do better. While group placement may be the right choice for a small percentage of youth, Rhode Island must work toward getting most children in the care of DCYF be with families to give them the caring, nurturing, and normalcy that they need,” Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count, said in a statement.
The report states that more than 57,000 children across the country are in the care of child welfare systems and living in group placements, and that four in 10 children have no mental health diagnosis, mental disability or behavioral problem that could warrant such a restrictive setting, and that group placement costs seven to 10 times as much as placing a child with a family.
“We have an obligation to help all of our kids succeed,” Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation, said in a statement. “If our children couldn’t live with us, we would want them to live with someone close to us – and if that couldn’t happen, with a caring foster family who could provide them with as normal a life as possible during a turbulent time. This report shows more kids can live safely in families and get the nurturing they need while under the care and protection of our child welfare systems.”
Every Kid Needs a Family recommends how communities can improve 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.
The report said that research shows the secure attachments provided by nurturing caregivers are “vital to a child’s healthy physical, social, emotional and psychological development throughout his life.” Young people who do not grow up in families are at greater risk of being abused in group placements, and of being arrested. However, many children – especially teens – are sent to a group placement as their very first experience after being removed from home, the report said.
The report found that:
- One in seven children under the care of child welfare systems live in group placements, even though federal law requires that they live in families whenever possible.
- Forty percent of the children in group placements have no documented behavioral or medical need that would warrant placement in such a restrictive setting.
- While research shows children who need residential treatment likely need to stay no longer than three to six months, young people are staying in group placements an average of eight months.
- 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 foundation said that policy and practice change can improve in four ways:
- Increase service options. Communities that provide a wide range of services have more options that enable children to remain safely in families. For example, state and local child welfare, and Medicaid agencies should work together to ensure adequate support by the behavioral health system for services that can be conveniently provided in a home setting.
- Strengthen pool of families. Public and private agencies should do more to find families for children and to make sure those families have the support they need to help children thrive.
- Keep residential treatment short, with family in focus.
- Require justification for restrictive placements. Substantial justification should be required by child welfare systems and by the courts before young people are sent to group placements. In Connecticut and Philadelphia, for example, the top child welfare executive must approve all group placements. Judges can require caseworkers to provide regular updates to make sure a child still needs residential treatment.