• May 2015
  • Vol. 16, No. 4

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Teens and Unnecessary Out-of-Home Placements

The child welfare and juvenile justice systems are in place to help children, youth, and families struggling with issues related to child abuse and neglect and delinquency. However, youth sometimes become unnecessarily involved in these systems although problems may be better resolved through other means. The Annie E. Casey Foundation's Child Welfare Strategy Group (CWSG) published a report detailing findings from investigations on teens who are inappropriately placed in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

CWSG studied a number of factors, including surveys of States, interviews with experts, visits to communities implementing promising approaches to helping teens, State legislation, and program funding. The study found that many teens become unnecessarily involved in these systems because their communities don't have adequate alternative options to address their conflict and behavioral issues. These teens are often placed in group placements instead of with kin or foster families. In fact, in 2012 alone, 35.5 percent of system-involved teens ages 13 to 17 became placed in group settings, which are often not equipped to provide the strong relationships, access to behavioral health services, and growth opportunities that are vital to helping teens navigate turbulent adolescent years.

CWSG's report provides details on four communities—New York City; Erie County, NY; Mecklenburg County, NC; and Wayne County, MI—that are implementing promising approaches to working with teens and families and avoiding group placements for teens. The study found that these communities had four practice elements in common:

  • A wide front door, open to all families and youths in crisis
  • Timely access to initial screening and assessment
  • High-quality screening and assessment
  • A range of high-quality services

The agencies in these communities also had six specific systemic factors in common:

  • Strong internal champions for change
  • A requirement that families must exhaust available services before petitioning the court to remove a child
  • Data collection and analysis
  • Community outreach
  • Multisystemic collaboration
  • Flexible, sustainable funding sources (e.g., redirecting State or local savings from reducing out-of-home placements to help fund community-based prevention services)

Read more about the study and its findings by accessing Too Many Teens: Preventing Unnecessary Out-of-Home Placements on the Annie E. Casey Foundation's website at http://www.aecf.org/m/resourcedoc/aecf-TooManyTeens-2015.pdf (278 KB).

Related Item

The Children’s Bureau recently released a data brief on the use of congregate care (e.g., group homes, child care institutions, residential treatment facilities, maternity homes) in the child welfare system. The brief examines data on the population of children and youth who are likely to experience congregate care and what, if any, additional supports may be needed to further reduce reliance on congregate care as a placement setting. Access the data brief on the Children's Bureau website at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/resource/congregate-care-brief.

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