The lives of foster children are improving in Utah and other states, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The study found that between 2007 and 2017, Utah significantly increased the number of foster kids placed in family settings, either with a relative or a foster family, while fewer were sent to group homes or institutions.
Terry Haven, interim CEO at the group Voices for Utah Children, explains it is always better to place children in the stability of a family home.
"Placing young kids with relatives or close friends' families when they can't stay with their birth families, I think helps minimize the trauma of removal and maintains those vital connections that they have in the communities, and keeping sibling groups together," Haven says.
In 2017, Utah had almost 3,000 children in foster care, and 88% were placed with families, up from 79% in 2007. Nationally, the placements of foster kids in homes increased by 5 percentage points during the same period.
The report noted that foster children placed with relatives are more likely to finish school, be employed or find employment later, and less likely to become early parents.
Haven says the report shows Utah needs to improve in the placement of older kids and children of color.
"In 2017, there was only 1% of our kids who are 12 years and under who are placed in group homes or institutions; 24% of our kids over age 12 are placed," she said. "For African-American children, it was at 14%, compared to 9% for non-Hispanic white kids."
Rob Geen, director of policy and advocacy reform with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, says new federal legislation passed in 2018 is expected to give states more tools to place foster children in the best possible situation.
"The Family First Prevention Services Act gives states new resources and new incentives to do exactly what the title says," Geen explains, "place 'families first' as a priority for children."
The report also recommends that to increase family placements, states should increase services available to families, remove barriers from recruiting foster families, engage families in decision-making and require approvals for non-kin placements.