On any given night, about 57,000 children under the care of our nation’s child welfare systems are going to bed without the care and comfort of a family. In its May 19, 2015 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 supported families to help raise more of these children.
Specifically, Every Kid Needs a Family emphasizes 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 these 57,000 children who are living in group placements – and overall, the more than 400,000 children in the care of child welfare systems.
The data from Annie E. Casey show that among all states, Missouri ranks in the top 20 states that have the highest number of children in state custody placed with families. Missouri also ranks in the top 20 states with the lowest number of children in non-family placements.
There are 1.3 million children in Missouri – 13,038 of those children are in the legal custody of the state. As of March 31, 2015, 10% are in group placement or residential setting, 3% are in mental health/ medical facilities, treatment foster homes managed by residential providers, detention, kinship, or runaway status. The remainder of the 13,308 are in foster families or kinship/relative care.
The number of Missouri children in care who are without an identified adoptive resource has declined significantly over the past 10-15 years to roughly 1,200 of the 13,038 in care. An additional 1,000 children are awaiting finalization of their adoption with a relative or foster parent. The remainder are working on a reunification plan with their biological families.
Every Kid Needs a Family recommends how communities can widen the array of services available to help parents and children under stress within their own homes, so that children have a better chance of reuniting with their birth families and retaining bonds important to their development. And it shows ways in which residential treatment – a vital option for the small percentage of young people who cannot safely live in any family during treatment – can help those young people return to families more quickly and prepare them to thrive there.
The imperative is clear: Despite what current data show, 40% of young people who live in group placements while in the care of child welfare systems in the United States have no clinical need to be in such restrictive settings, threatening their well-being and chances for finding a permanent family. These placements also have been shown to be harmful to a child’s opportunities to develop strong, nurturing attachments. Group placements can also cost seven to ten times the amount it takes to place a child with a relative or foster family.
The AECF report highlights three main recommendations for decreasing time spent in residential settings and for improving the overall experience of foster care. In Missouri, a great deal of work has been done in the private sector to improve accessibility, sophistication, and responsiveness of their service continuum to reduce residential placements. Additionally, the Missouri Department of Social Services, Children’s Division, which has the statutory responsibility for overseeing the child welfare system, has been working for some time in the areas recommended by AECF in their report.
Recommendation 1: Expand the service array to ensure that children remain in families
Recommendation 2: Recruit, strengthen, and retain more relative and foster families
Recommendation 3: Support decision making that ensures the least restrictive placement
The Missouri Family and Community Trust (FACT), is the official Annie E. Casey (AECF) KIDS COUNT® partner in Missouri. FACT promotes and supports collaboration and innovation in service delivery for Missouri's children and families through its network of 20 "community partnerships" around the state. Area Resources for Community and Human Services (ARCHS) is the St. Louis region's state designated community partnership.
As St. Louis' KIDS COUNT® partner, ARCHS designs, manages, and evaluates 15 education and social service programs provided at more than 275 locations that annually improve the lives of more than 90,000 of the St. Louis region's most vulnerable children and their family members (FY2014 data). Several of ARCHS’ programs serve children who are in foster care, as well as their families and non-family guardians.