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New Report: Every Kid Needs a Family

KIDS_COUNT_PR_foster_badge02-150pxIn its latest 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 the urgent need for sound policies and proven practices to connect more children with nurturing and supportive families.

On average, 14% of children in foster care in Arizona are living in congregate care settings like emergency shelters and group homes, an average of 2,101 each day. The Arizona Department of Child Safety pays on average $123 per day for each youth living in a group home while care in a licensed foster family costs $23 per day. As this population continues to grow, our state is spending ever increasing resources without better futures for Arizona children.

“Kids in congregate care are disconnected from family life,” said Dana Wolfe Naimark, President and CEO of Children’s Action Alliance. “They miss out on routines like dinner around the table, having friends over after school or having private space to study or daydream.”

Research shows the secure attachments provided by nurturing caregivers are vital to a child’s healthy physical, social, emotional and psychological development throughout his life. Young people who do not grow up in families are at greater risk of being abused in group placements, and of being arrested. Despite this, many children – especially teens – are sent to a group placement as their very first experience after being removed from home.

Desaray, a former foster youth and a member of the Fostering Advocates Arizona Young Adult Leadership Board, lived with relatives after she was removed from her mother’s care. “I feel fortunate to have grown up in a family setting. I know people who lived in group homes, and they didn’t have the same support system that I continue to have. Their care ended when they turned 18, but I continue to have encouragement and guidance from my family,” said Desaray.

“Not only did I have a caring family setting, I was able to grow up with my brothers and sisters. Those bonds I have with my siblings are among the strongest in my life. I know that if I had ended up in a group home without them, I would have missed out on the relationships that helped me be successful.”

Last year, the State of Arizona made a commitment to the US Department of Health and Human Services to reduce the number of youth in congregate care in order to qualify for flexibility in its use of federal funds. DCS pledged to develop service reforms to prevent initial placement into congregate care, help step down children and youth in congregate care to less restrictive placements, and to reunify families. DCS must present those specific strategies within the next month.

Every Kid Needs a Family 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 children who are living in group placements. Arizona could adopt the KinFirst model as one policy tool to help more children stay with family members instead of living in group homes. KinFirst, now working in Washington, D.C. and Maryland, steps up and speeds up finding relatives and devoting robust resources to engage and support them.

“Arizona has a great opportunity to make changes that are good for taxpayers and beneficial for children and families,” Naimark concluded. “We’re ready to help the state move from talk to action.”

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