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Child Welfare Advocates Release Roadmap for Ending Institutionalization of Children

New report shows harm done to children living in institutions and group homes, and offers strategies for reform

Contact: Camilla Jenkins 917-971-1784 cjenkins@childrensrights.org

Today, national child advocacy organization Children’s Rights released a report that brings new urgency to ending the harmful, unnecessary housing of more than 40,000 U.S. children in institutions and other group facilities in government-run foster care systems.

The report, Families over Facilities: Ending the Use of Harmful and Unnecessary Institutions and Other Group Facilities in Child Welfare Systems, 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.

A convergence of critical factors make this the moment for change.

As the nation reckons with the inherent racism in government systems, the burden of institutionalization falls disproportionately on Black children, at a time when there has been an explosion of reports of egregious abuses and dangerous conditions in group homes.

An investigation following the killing in 2020 of Cornelius Fredrick, a 16 year old Black youth who died after being held in prolonged face-down physical restraint at a facility in Michigan, has brought widespread attention to dangerous conditions in group facilities across the country.

The COVID-19 public health crisis goes on unabated, making group facilities dangerous places for children and the adults who care for them. And new federal child welfare laws provide powerful incentives for states to prioritize family preservation and end unnecessary institutionalization.

“A country where children are not housed in institutions is not only a moral imperative, it is thoroughly achievable with the right policies and leadership,” said Madeleine Kinney, staff attorney with Children’s Rights. “States like Connecticut have already made tremendous strides in reducing their foster care population through increasing preventive services and placing children with loving relatives rather than in group homes. Our report provides a path forward for other states to implement strategies to reimagine child welfare throughout the country.”

The report features testimony from former foster youth who lived in institutions, often for years. Dameon Caldwell describes how an impersonal institutional environment can impact children’s ability to receive support from adults and exacerbate the effects of traumatic circumstances on their development: “I lost my mother when I was in care, and they held it from me for like two days. The CEO called me to make sure I wasn’t going to act out or become a problem. I was 12 or 13. He was more concerned about how I was going to act, than if I was emotionally there.”

This is a fixable problem.

Families over Facilities 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 unnecessary 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.

Proposed strategies in the report include: engaging all stakeholders — the public, agency staff, and young people — in prioritizing deinstitutionalization of children; and strengthening preventive services, such as rehabilitation, and substance abuse treatment for families to reduce risks of neglect or abuse.

Families over facilities is endorsed by child welfare thought leaders nationwide.

“Too often, children are separated from their families because of underlying root causes that can be addressed without the trauma of taking children from their homes and placing them in institutions,” said Rafael López, former Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and an endorser of the Declaration of Urgency in the report.

“Investments in addressing these challenges, including poverty, mental illness, domestic violence, homelessness and substance use disorders, can help keep children and families safer without funneling children into ineffective and costly foster care systems that can too often cause more harm to children than they experienced before entering the system.”

Families Over Facilities Endorsers:

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

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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