A Wealth of Research and Data During National Foster Care Month

A Wealth of Research and Data During National Foster Care Month

In 2020, an esti­mat­ed 407, 493 chil­dren and youth were in fos­ter care – a tem­po­rary liv­ing sit­u­a­tion for chil­dren whose par­ents can­not take care of them and whose need for care has come to the atten­tion of child wel­fare agency staff. While in fos­ter care, chil­dren may live with rel­a­tives, with fos­ter fam­i­lies or in group facilities.

Dur­ing Nation­al Fos­ter Care Month, this roundup pro­vides a range of research, tools and data the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion has sup­port­ed to improve under­stand­ing about fos­ter care and the child wel­fare system.

Despite long­stand­ing crit­i­cisms and calls for less restric­tive place­ment set­tings, group care ― also called con­gre­gate care ― is often used to meet the com­plex behav­ioral and men­tal health needs of chil­dren and youth who can­not live at home and serves as an alter­na­tive to short stays in treat­ment facil­i­ties. Using Con­gre­gate Care cap­tures data about these place­ments from 15 states over an eight-year peri­od. The report, by the Cen­ter for State Child Wel­fare Data, found that about 20% of young peo­ple enter­ing the child wel­fare sys­tem will expe­ri­ence at least one group place­ment, and approx­i­mate­ly 75% of these youth will spend their very first night in a group set­ting. A sep­a­rate study by Think of Us cap­tured per­spec­tives, atti­tudes and expe­ri­ences of young peo­ple who were recent­ly placed in con­gre­gate care and found harm­ful effects from these set­tings, includ­ing miss­ing out on nor­mal activ­i­ties, feel­ing a lack of love and becom­ing emo­tion­al­ly shut down or detached.

A new study con­sid­ers shifts in how young peo­ple in the child wel­fare sys­tem describe their racial and eth­nic iden­ti­ty and the impli­ca­tions of those shifts for pol­i­cy­mak­ers, prac­ti­tion­ers and researchers. Con­duct­ed by Child Trends, the report makes the case that cap­tur­ing young people’s racial and eth­nic iden­ti­ty is cen­tral to accu­rate­ly inter­pret­ing data about young peo­ple and to mak­ing informed deci­sions about pro­grams tai­lored to their needs.

A 2020 sur­vey from the Urban Insti­tute high­lights gaps in child wel­fare research, cap­tur­ing respons­es from 300 peo­ple involved with child wel­fare sys­tems across the coun­try, includ­ing agency staff, researchers and sys­tem con­stituents such as birth fam­i­lies, fos­ter par­ents and young adults for­mer­ly in fos­ter care. Respon­dents see the great­est need for research that informs invest­ments in strength­en­ing fam­i­lies before child abuse and neglect can occur.

A Casey Foun­da­tion webi­nar, ​ “Five Ways the COVID-19 Pan­dem­ic Affect­ed Young Par­ents with Fos­ter Care Expe­ri­ence,” shares find­ings from a study involv­ing 26 young par­ents with expe­ri­ence in fos­ter care. It includes quotes and pho­tos from the par­ents as well as a pre­sen­ta­tion by researchers from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land and Mont­clair State University.

The Cal­i­for­nia Evi­­dence-Based Clear­ing­house for Child Wel­fare has des­ig­nat­ed Con­nect, a 10-week par­ent­ing skills and sup­port pro­gram,​“Well Sup­port­ed by Research Evi­dence” — its high­est rat­ing avail­able. The pro­gram pro­motes social, emo­tion­al and behav­ioral adjust­ment and attach­ment secu­ri­ty for youth between the ages of 8 and 18.

This webi­nar explores fund­ing streams and strate­gies that child wel­fare lead­ers can lever­age to sup­port fam­i­lies before they cross paths with the child wel­fare sys­tem. The ses­sion, ​ “Fund­ing Strate­gies to Keep Fam­i­lies Sup­port­ed, Con­nect­ed and Safe,” high­lights how lead­ers can col­lab­o­rate with com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions and across gov­ern­ment systems. 

Read about the Casey Life Skills assess­ment, pro­duced by Casey Fam­i­ly Pro­grams, which can be used to iden­ti­fy which sources of sup­port and life skills teens in fos­ter care need. The assess­ment tool is designed for youth ages 14 to 21 and can aid case­work­ers in iden­ti­fy­ing skill gaps ear­ly. In addi­tion, the tool aims to ensure that indi­vid­ual learn­ing plans remain rel­e­vant as young peo­ple grow — and pro­motes under­stand­ing of the chang­ing strengths, strug­gles and goals of young people.

The rapid expan­sion in advanced ana­lyt­i­cal tools rais­es ques­tions about how they can be used for — not against — young peo­ple. This brief explores the con­tro­ver­sies, eth­i­cal chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties that these tools cre­ate for youth- and fam­i­ly-serv­ing agen­cies. It also presents four prin­ci­ples for iden­ti­fy­ing effec­tive and equi­table advanced ana­lyt­ics tools and pro­vides real-world exam­ples of how juris­dic­tions are using these tools.

In 2020, one in four (26%) chil­dren who left fos­ter care in the Unit­ed States was adopt­ed by a fam­i­ly. Learn more about the lat­est sta­tis­tics on adop­tion from fos­ter care from the KIDS COUNT Data Center.

Learn more about fos­ter care, includ­ing what it is, how it works, rel­e­vant data and infor­ma­tion about how to improve the nation’s fos­ter care sys­tem to sup­port bet­ter out­comes for chil­dren and young peo­ple. In addi­tion, find our lat­est wrap up of child wel­fare and fos­ter care sta­tis­tics.

For kids in fos­ter care, inde­pen­dence with­out adult guid­ance is par­tic­u­lar­ly chal­leng­ing, com­ing at a time when they are grad­u­at­ing high school and prepar­ing to nav­i­gate high­er edu­ca­tion or enter the work­ing world. Rec­og­niz­ing this, many states offer extend­ed fos­ter care — an approach that allows youth to remain in or re-enter care beyond their 18 birth­day. This change gives young peo­ple more time to suc­cess­ful­ly nav­i­gate the crit­i­cal tran­si­tion to adult­hood while also afford­ing the child wel­fare sys­tem more time to secure a lov­ing and per­ma­nent sup­port net­work for each youth in care.

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