On April 2, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released their data snapshot, “Keeping Kids in Families: Trends in Placement of Young People in Foster Care in the United States,” which provided state-by-state information on the progress of placing children in family-based settings across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Per the data, New Jersey is doing better than most states, with 94 percent of children living in foster care placed with families rather than in residential settings.
The report looked at data from the child welfare system over a 10-year period to see how placements for young people in foster care have changed. They found that nationwide, foster care systems placed 86 percent of these children in families in 2017, compared with 81 percent in 2007.
New Jersey is one of just four states that placed 73 percent or more of teenagers in families in 2017. Nationwide, more than a third of young people in child welfare systems who are 13 and older lived in group placements in 2017 – the same proportion as 10 years ago.
The four-page snapshot details how states can leverage the 2018 federal Family First Prevention Services Act, or Family First Act, to prioritize family placement and encourage high-quality, family-centered settings for even better outcomes. The Family First Act realigns federal funding to prioritize prevention through mental health and substance use treatment, in-home parenting skills training and counseling in order strengthen the family and prevent children from entering foster care in the first place. However, one of the prerequisites to this new use of federal funds is that a state has to significantly reduce its use of residential care, or care outside of a family setting. The Family First Act places restrictions on federal funding for group care, so that only children in critical need of services are placed in group homes. For the past ten years, New Jersey has worked to reduce the number of children in institutional care, an optimal place to start in order to implement the Family First Act.
ACNJ joined the Casey Foundation in calling on child welfare systems to increase available services to stabilize families using the opportunities afforded to them by the Family First Act. States can:
- prioritize recruitment of kin and foster families for older youth and youth of color in recruitment planning;
- engage families in decision-making, since kin and foster parents should be treated as important members of a child’s team; and
- require director approval for non-kin placements.
As stated in the Casey data snapshot, “[t]he Family First Act offers a momentous opportunity for state leaders to reimagine their systems to focus on families and benefit young people.” Given the progress New Jersey has already made in reducing reliance on group home or institution care, we can focus on other aspects of the Family First Act, such as services to keep children safe at home and services to support successful reunification with their parents when children do need to enter foster care. New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families has shown that they are committed to increasing the number of relative or kinship care homes for children who need foster care placements and want to put a greater focus on prevention. We are heading in the right direction. Let’s keep moving!
For any questions, feel free to contact Vice President Mary Coogan at email@example.com.