Child Welfare Systems Prioritizing Family Placements, Study Finds

Child Welfare Systems Prioritizing Family Placements, Study Finds

Child welfare systems across the United States are making progress in placing children with relatives and foster families rather than in group settings and institutions, a data brief from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds.

The brief, Keeping Kids in Families: Trends in U.S. Foster Care Placement (4 pages, PDF), found that in 2017, 86 percent of the children in foster care nationwide were placed in families, up from 81 percent in 2007. At the same time, the analysis identified disparities in the share of foster care children placed in families by age and race/ethnicity, with only 58 percent of teenagers placed in families, compared with 95 percent of children under the age of 12. While all racial/ethnic groups in the study saw gains in family placements, African-American children and youth were less likely to be placed with families (81 percent) than were Asian/Pacific Islander (84 percent), Latinx (86 percent), white (87 percent), mixed-race (88 percent), or Native American (90 percent) children and youth.

According to the brief, states making the most progress — among them Maine, Mississippi, Nevada, and New Jersey — have adopted strategies to support kin and foster families as key partners in helping children heal, prioritize child well-being in decision making, and invest in a continuum of community-based services. 

Recommendations for further increasing family placements include using federally reimbursed services designed to stabilize families and maintain connections when a child enters foster care; prioritizing the recruitment and retention of kin and foster families, especially for older youth and youth of color; engaging families in Team Decision Making, a practice that allows family members to participate in real-time decisions about how best to keep a child safe when placement is considered; and requiring approval from the child welfare director for non-kin placements.

"Being part of a family is a basic human need and essential to well-being, especially for children, teenagers, and young adults who are developing rapidly and transitioning to independence," the brief's authors write. "The new data reflect a growing consensus among practitioners and policy makers that young people in the child welfare system should live in families. When a group placement is required to address specific issues such as mental health needs, the child should stay only as long as it takes to address those needs."

"Keeping Kids in Families: Trends in U.S. Foster Care Placement." Annie E. Casey Foundation Report 04/02/2019.