Families Over Facilities: Ending the Use of Harmful and Unnecessary Institutions and Other Group Facilities in Child Welfare Systems

Families Over Facilities: Ending the Use of Harmful and Unnecessary Institutions and Other Group Facilities in Child Welfare Systems

Families Over Facilities:

Ending the Use of Harmful and Unnecessary Institutions and Other Group Facilities in Child Welfare Systems

At any given time, there are approximately 42,823 children housed in institutions and other group facilities. Institutionalizing children denies them loving homes and robs them of their childhood. 

Families over Facilities is a call to action to end the unnecessary institutionalization of children in child welfare. The report details the physical, mental and emotional harm done to children in group settings, the significant unnecessary taxpayer costs associated with the practice, and violations of children’s civil and human rights. 

The report provides both a Declaration of Urgency and an Adaptable Toolkit of practical steps state child welfare agencies, case workers, and service providers can take to end institutionalization, keep families together and children out of foster care, and when that is not possible, dramatically increase the placement of children with other family members.

As COVID-19 continues to endanger the lives of youth and the nation reckons with the inherent racism in government systems, the burden of institutionalization falls disproportionately on Black children.  At the same time, there has been an explosion of reports of egregious abuses and dangerous conditions in group homes.

Now is the time to end the institutionalization of children once and for all and dismantle the persistent racism that exists within the youth justice and child welfare systems.


In 2019, at any given time there were approximately 423,997 children in foster care, including around 42,823 children (10%) housed in institutional and group care settings. Older youth (ages 14 to 17) make up 64% of the institutional and group facilities population.

In 2019, Black children accounted for 23% of the children in foster care, although they make up only 13.4% of the country’s children age 18 or younger. They are also more likely to be placed in a group home where they face additional trauma and abuse, making up 25% of the total institutions and group facilities population.

A single state can pay as much as $95 million each year to institutionalize youth. Jurisdictions that reduce their use of institutions and group facilities gain a cost savings and have an immediate reinvestment opportunity to fill gaps in their community-based continuum of care service array to support prevention, preservation, and family placements (especially with kin).

Data from a National Survey on Child and Adolescent Well-Being, found that youth in group settings were most likely to be prescribed psychotropics (67.4%), compared to less than a quarter of children in other foster care settings (15.9% to 23.8%), children who remained in their own homes (10.9%), and informal kin care (11.9%).

One study suggests that 50-80% of these victims had prior interaction with the child welfare system and that many were recruited directly out of institutions and group facilities. Traffickers are aware that adolescents in institutions and group facilities are vulnerable and prey on that vulnerability.

What you'll find in the report

Hear from young adults who bravely shared their lived experiences

Learn how institutions and group facilities inflict harm on children and violate their rights

Discover strategies for child welfare agencies and advocates to adopt to end unnecessary institutionalization

Voices of the youth who lived in out-of-home foster care

That was also the “cool down method”— someone sits on you or holds your arms down until you stop fighting. They are threatening you the whole time. I was 9 or 10 and just didn’t know how to calm myself down and didn’t understand my anger. 

I would get restrained all the time.


Group homes felt like punishment for being born in the wrong place at the wrong time to the wrong people and I treated myself like someone who didn’t deserve anything good because that’s what I believed. Group homes created an environment that encouraged and normalized crime, violence, aggression, pain, and isolation. 

You can’t heal in group homes.


Karen Baynes-Dunning
Former Associate Judge,
Fulton County Juvenile Court, Georgia

Gladys Carrión
Former Commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services, City of New York

Center for the Study of Social Policy

Children’s Advocacy Institute

Children’s Defense Fund

Vannessa Dorantes
Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, State of Connecticut

First Star, Inc.

Lexie Gruber
Child Welfare Advocate

Bonnie Hommrich
Former Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services

The Justice Lab at Columbia University

Juvenile Law Center

Joette Katz
Former Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, State of Connecticut

Rafael López

Former Commissioner of the U.S. Administration on Children, Youth and Families and Former Senior Policy Advisor, The White House

National Association of Counsel for Children

National Center for Youth Law

New America

Public Knowledge

Think of Us

Hon. William A. Thorne, Jr.
Retired Judge on the State of Utah Court of Appeals and in the Third District Court

Molly McGrath Tierney
Former Director of the Department of Social Services, City of Baltimore

Tymber Hudson

Paul Vincent
Former Director of the Director Alabama Department of Human Resources Family Services Division; Founder of the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group

Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice

Youth Law Center

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