Many Children Placed in Group Homes Unnecessarily, Report Finds

One in seven children under the care of the child welfare system lives in a group placement, even though federal law requires that children in the system be placed with a family whenever possible, a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds.

The KIDS COUNT policy report Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success (HTML or PDF, 20 pages) found that 40 percent of the nearly fifty-seven thousand children in group placements have no documented behavioral or medical need warranting such a restrictive setting, and that stays in group homes average eight months, despite research showing that even those who need residential treatment are unlikely to need a stay longer than three to six months. According to the report, the secure attachments nurtured by caregivers and the stability of routines in family settings are vital to a child's healthy physical, social, emotional, and psychological development, while young people who do not grow up in families are at greater risk of being abused in group placements and of being arrested.

Although the rate of group placement ranges from as low as 4 percent in Oregon to as high as 35 percent in Colorado, the report calls for changes in policy and practice to limit the use of such placements to situations in which caseworkers cannot find an appropriate family quickly. Recommendations in the report include greater collaboration between state and local child welfare and Medicaid agencies to increase options for providing behavioral health services at home; increasing the pool of and support for relatives and foster families; keeping residential treatment periods short; and requiring justification and stricter approval procedures for group placements.

"We have an obligation to help all of our kids succeed," said Casey Foundation president and CEO Patrick McCarthy. "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."

"Too Many Kids in U.S. Child Welfare Systems Not Living in Families." Annie E. Casey Foundation Press Release 05/19/2015.