July 8, 2008
Homes Away from Home: Foster parents for a new generation
The Center for New York City Affairs at The New School and the Center for an Urban Future today issued a joint report on child welfare documenting the city's increased reliance on foster families to care for children with emotional and mental health issues.
Child Welfare Watch, Vol. 16, "Homes Away from Home: Foster parents for a new generation," finds that foster parenting is harder than ever, as fewer foster teens—especially younger teenagers—are placed in institutions and a fast-growing percentage are moving in with families.
The city's foster care system has made significant headway helping create family homes for young people who once would have spent months or even years in group homes and residential treatment centers. But city officials and nonprofit leaders face tremendous challenges in creating effective support systems, crisis teams and training programs that can help foster parents care for these children.
The report documents how foster parents are adjusting to their increasingly demanding role, and how the system is struggling to meet their needs. Highlights include:
Foster parents today are taking care of more than 1,000 children who, if they entered foster care a few years ago, would likely have been placed in group homes or residential treatment centers. (See "Greater Expectations: Foster parents confront new needs—and new demands.")
While the city strives to place far fewer teens in group homes and residential treatment, so far the greatest success has been with younger teens. Older teens are just as likely to be placed in institutional, non-family programs as they were four years ago. (See "The Changing Face of Foster Care: The end of an era of institutionalized foster care for teens?")
Although studies show between 50 and 70 percent of children in foster care have emotional and mental health problems, access to counseling and mental health care remains a severe gap in services, especially for teens in foster homes.
Today, most pregnant and parenting foster teens live with families, yet there are no citywide standards for how foster parents should be trained to help young mothers, nor does the city's Administration for Children's Services (ACS) systematically measure whether pregnant teens are getting basics such as prenatal care. (See "High-Risk, Low Priority: The needs of teen parents in foster homes are often unmet.")
The percentage of children placed in foster boarding homes in their neighborhoods has dropped to 11 percent, a level not seen since the late 1990s. This runs counter to a target of 75 percent of community-based placement set by ACS in 2001. The vast majority of children who enter foster care are sent to live in unfamiliar neighborhoods, even as nearby foster homes are filled by children from other communities. (See "Hide and Seek: The rate of children in foster care living near their families and communities is plummeting.")
The 16th issue of Child Welfare Watch also reports on new efforts to recruit foster homes and create bonds between parents and foster parents. And the report features daily diaries of three city foster care moms who share the unvarnished hazards and happiness of their lives with children. (See "Behind Closed Doors: Diaries of three foster moms.")
The report also contains policy recommendations drafted by the Child Welfare Watch advisory board aimed at helping policymakers better support foster families and the children they shelter.