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November 2015Vol. 16, No. 8Research Brief: The Use of Congregate Care

Federal and State laws require State agencies to place children in need of out-of-home care in the least restrictive, most home-like settings possible. However, it is estimated that about 20 percent of children in care in the United States will experience a placement in a group home or other form of congregate care. The Center for State Child Welfare Data at Chapin Hall has published a new research brief, Within and Between State Variation in the Use of Congregate Care, that looks the use congregate care around the country.

The study analyzed data from the Multistate Foster Care Data Archive (FCDA)—a longitudinal archive of the foster care records of approximately 3 million children nationwide—which was used to illustrate how congregate care use varies among States and counties. The study focused on the following questions:

  • How does the likelihood of placement in congregate care vary from State to State?
  • Given that group care varies so widely from place to place, what factors predict placement in a nonfamliy setting? Specifically, how do child characteristics and ecological factors interact to produce trends in congregate care placement?

The analysis shows that some counties use very little congregate care and in other counties, nearly 9 out of 10 children entering foster care were placed in a nonfamily setting. Teenagers are more likely to enter a group setting than younger children, males are more likely than females, and African-Americans more likely than children from other racial/ethnic backgrounds. Urban counties use more congregate care than nonurban counties. Economically disadvantaged counties are less likely to place children in group care than areas classified as better off. The authors then examine a number of data models offering possible explanations for how other variables can contribute to the likelihood of placement in group care.

Access Within and Between State Variation in the Use of Congregate Care, by Fred Wulczyn, Lily Alpert, Zach Martinez, and Ava Weiss, at