On any given night, about 57,000 children in our nation’s child welfare systems are going to bed without the care and comfort of a family. In its latest KIDS COUNT policy report, Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success, the Annie E. Casey Foundation highlights this and other sobering statistics that point to the urgent need to ensure, through sound policies and proven practices, that everything possible is being done to find loving, nurturing and supportive families to help raise more of these children.
Specifically, the Every Kid Needs a Family report emphasizes the importance of making and keeping a lifelong connection to a family. The report also highlights the promising ways that state and local government leaders as well as policymakers, judges and private providers can work together as they strive to help children touched by the child welfare system find permanent, loving homes.
Unfortunately, Nebraska fares worse than the national average when it comes to placing children outside of family structures. In 2013, 735 children, nearly 16 percent Nebraska of children in the foster care system, were placed outside of families, above the national average of 14 percent.
In Nebraska and nationwide, it has become clear that too many children in the child welfare system are lacking family placement, with over prescription of group placement being the norm. Group homes and other congregate care facilities play an important role in the spectrum of care, but should be reserved for only the small fraction of children whose needs and behaviors truly warrant a more restrictive setting. National data show that 4 in 10 children in group placements have no mental health diagnosis, medical disability, or behavioral problem that may warrant such placement. Moreover, this overreliance is costly; group placements cost the state seven to ten times what it costs to place a child in family or foster care. Finally, this inefficient model breaks up siblings and moves children away from familiar routines, causing further traumatization.
Given all the foregoing, Voices for Children concurs with the following recommendations from the report, in order to improve outcomes for the most vulnerable children in our state:
- 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 the 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. Residential treatment should be strengthened to meet children’s acute needs in a customized, short-term way that equips young people to live in a family and to maintain family connections throughout treatment.
- 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.
The Every Kid Needs a Family report gives the research on what our guts already tell us: children do best in stable, loving homes. Every kid not only needs a family, but deserves one. At Voices, we will continue to work to ensure every child in Nebraska has the opportunity to thrive in a family of their own.