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Finding a way home.

There are around 400,000 American children in foster care, and some 58,000 are living in group homes, residential treatment facilities, psychiatric institutions and emergency shelters.

This type of placement--called "congregate care"--can be beneficial for children who require short-term supervision and structure because their behavior may be dangerous. But officials believe too many kids who don't need that type of intense supervision are still in these group placements--depending on the state, between 5 percent and 32 percent--making it harder to find them permanent homes and costing state governments three to five times more than family foster care.

Child welfare agencies are working to reduce the use of congregate care by reinvesting funds into family-based and prevention services and changing policies to favor family placements and discourage congregate care.

For example, some states have lowered the number of beds in group facilities and increased the number of family foster homes. Other states are including children and families in the decisions made on where children should be placed and what resources families might need to keep their children home safely.

Virginia has been a leader in reducing the number of children in congregate care and increasing family-based placements and permanent adoptions. Among other things, the state established a council to develop a set of reforms that supported family-focused, child-centered, community-based care, with an emphasis on finding permanent homes in family settings for all children. The state increased care from relatives, foster families or adoptive parents, and included children and biological families in these placement decisions. Lawmakers changed the child welfare finance system to reflect these new priorities. They reduced the amount of matching funds for congregate care, while increasing foster care and adoption subsidies and funding for recruiting and training foster and adoptive families.

Since 2007, the number of kids in congregate care has dropped by 62.4 percent, and kinship care placements have increased by 10.32 percent, according to a report from the Virginia Department of Human Services Commissioner. In addition, placements into permanent homes increased by 14.01 percent.

As the need to find cost savings continues and the benefits to children and communities of reducing institutional care become clearer, more states are considering similar changes to their child welfare systems.

Where Foster Children Live

Foster Family                   47%

Foster Family (Relative)        27%

Congregate Care                 15%

Trial Home Visit                 5%

Pre-Adoptive home                4%

Runaway                          1%

Supervised Independent Living    1%

Source." U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services. Children's Bureau. July 2012.
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Title Annotation:TRENDS & TRANSITIONS; congregate care
Author:Nowak, Kate Bartell
Publication:State Legislatures
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2013
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