Monday, February 21, 2011

“Graphic” evidence of foster care failure (and, occasionally, success)

It’s no secret to anyone who reads this Blog that NCCPR believes far too many children are in foster care.   We believe that, for the overwhelming majority of children whose families are investigated by child protective services agencies, including many children now taken from their homes, the best placement is no placement.  These children should be left in their own homes and their families should be given the help they need to keep their children safe.

But some children really do need to be placed in substitute care.  In those cases, not all “placement settings” are created equal.  In the overwhelming majority of cases, the least detrimental alternative, the one most likely to “cushion the blow” of foster care placement is placement with a relative, typically a grandparent.  This is commonly known as kinship foster care.  Study after study has  found that kinship care placements typically are more stable, better for children’s well-being and, most important, safer than what should properly be called “stranger care.”

At the other extreme, the worst form of care is “congregate care” – a group home or an institution – where the child is denied any family at all.

Every year, the federal government asks the states for a “snapshot” of how many children they have in these and other “placement settings” on September 30, the last day of the federal fiscal year.  But the federal government publishes only the national totals.  At one time the Child Welfare League of America compiled the state-by-state data and presented them in a database.  It’s one of the few useful things CWLA ever did.  Now they’ve stopped doing it.

So using the federal Freedom of Information Act, NCCPR has obtained the state-by-state totals for the most recent year available, 2009. We present them here.

As is so often the case in child welfare, the data reveal enormous variation among the states.  Wyoming, which has the worst record for congregate care, uses non-family care at more than seven times the rate of Oregon, which reports using it the least.  Hawaii, with the nation’s best record for using kinship care uses it at more than seven times the rate of Virginia, which has the worst record.

Courtesy of Data Revelations, which donated their services (I'm on good terms with the CEO), we are pleased to present the data as an interactive database, allowing readers to see the data in graphic form, and customize data elements.  Have a look.