I have spent a lot of time this past year working in the foster care system. It has been, to say the least, eye-opening. My blog today relates to what I have learned about the institutionalization of these children in an environment known as group homes.
To set the stage for the information in this article, let me state that the placement of foster children in group home environments has been increasingly deemed a failed model by youth advocacy organizations, the State of California, and various county child welfare departments. In spite of that knowledge, year after year vulnerable children remain housed in them for lack of a better option.
With that background in mind, I have some bad news for you.
And then some more bad news.
And finally some good news.
Bad News #1 – Long-term placement (over six months) of children in group homes can be especially problematic because the foster youth who live in these settings are more likely than those living in family settings to suffer a variety of negative short-term and long-term outcomes. Such placements are associated with an increased likelihood of being involved with the juvenile justice system and the adult correctional system, as well as low educational attainment levels. In 2014, about 3,000 of the 60,000 foster youth in California were placed in group home settings.
Foster youth in group homes are the most likely to be prescribed excessive amounts of psychotropic medications, with more than half receiving court-approved prescriptions. Many of these drugs are commonly used to sedate troubled kids, often for the convenience of group homes, rather than any proven therapeutic benefit. Meanwhile, youth in group homes continue to suffer far worse outcomes than foster children raised with relatives or foster parents. Studies cited in a recent State report show they have higher rates of school dropout and arrest. Roughly 2/3 of the youth failed to attain basic proficiency in either English or math. Perhaps even more problematic are the emotional consequences. If a child is living in a group home, which is not a family setting, it may give the child the message that they may not belong in a normal family, resulting in the youth believing that they will never fit in anywhere but an institution. Sadly, that is the future for many of these children.
Bad News #2 – Most people are unware of the cost to the taxpayer of the group home facility fees these organizations charge the County Department of Child and Youth Services – and ultimately paid for by us as taxpayers. The group home is paid for the costs of food, housing and social activities. Medical services are provided separately by MediCal, educational services are provided by the local school district and counseling services by the county behavioral health department. Below is an example of the minimum current rate paid to a group home facility which houses these youths on a long-term basis. If a psychiatrist is involved to administer drugs, or specialized educational services are required, the monthly fee can increase to $10,130 per month.
$8,935 per month, per child – equates to $107,220 annually, per child
If the facility has 25 beds, the group home’s revenue is $2,680,500
If the facility has 50 beds, the group home’s revenue is $5,361,000
If the facility has 75 beds, the group home’s revenue is $8,041,500
I will spare you the displeasure of knowing how much of these funds go to administration, marketing and fundraising. And although I work in the area of youth advocacy, and have access to certain proprietary information, the above disclosure is not confidential, and you can look up the information about a particular group home for yourself at: http://www.childsworld.ca.gov/res/pdf/GHList.pdf
In my estimation, the fees currently being paid would be better utilized to obtain therapeutic counseling, tutoring and educational assistance, behavioral modification services and personal life skill assistance.
Good News – (I think) – Effective January 1, 2017, California Assembly Bill 403 goes into effect – effectively discontinuing the use of group homes to house foster children on a long-term basis (over six months). Instead, the State is pursuing a multi-year implementation plan to acquire, train and support individuals and families who want to care for these children in a family home setting, with specialized therapeutic services being provided by the various county social service departments.
Is the move to discontinue the long-term warehousing of children in group homes a good one – I think so.
Will there be implementation issues as alternative therapeutic foster care placement opportunities are developed – undoubtedly.
Even with the uncertainty of the effectiveness of this new law, I am thrilled that we are finally starting to focus attention on some of the most vulnerable youth in our society.
For I know we can do better than what we are currently doing.