Report: More Montana Children in Welfare Systems Living in Families

May 19, 2015

MISSOULA – On any given night, about 57,000 children under the care of our nation’s child welfare systems are going to bed without the care and comfort of a family, according to a KIDS COUNT policy report released May 19.

The data, highlighted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in “Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success,” show children in Montana’s welfare system are more likely to live with foster families or relatives.

“Montana is doing better than most states in placing children with families,” said Jennifer Calder, communications director for Montana KIDS COUNT. Nationally, 84 percent of children in the child welfare system live in a family placement, the report shows. In 2013, of the approximately 2,200 Montana children in the child welfare system, 90 percent were placed with kin or within a foster family.

“Placement with supportive families is a clear priority in Montana,” Calder said.

According to the report, several states have high rates of group placements, but sometimes such placements are not appropriate. Forty percent of young people who live in group placements while in the care of child welfare systems in the United States have no clinical need to be in such restrictive settings, threatening their well-being and chances for finding a permanent family.

Inappropriate placements have shown to be harmful to a child by limiting opportunities to develop strong, nurturing attachments, according to KIDS COUNT. In addition, group placements can cost seven to 10 times the amount it takes to place a child with a relative or foster family. Children in residential placements range from a high of 35 percent in Colorado to a low of 4 percent in Oregon. Montana has a relatively low rate of 9 percent.

In those instances where children end up in group homes – and it’s usually teens – Montana is trying a new approach to establish secure connections through its Family Intensive Services Unit. Sarah Corbally, the administrator of the Child and Family Services Division at the Department of Public Health and Human Services, said collaborations have been key to the program’s success.

“Providers have been very supportive,” Corbally said. “We have found permanency for some of our most challenging kids even in the first four months of the ISU project.”

Research cited in the KIDS COUNT report shows secure attachments provided to children by nurturing caregivers are vital to their healthy physical, social, emotional and psychological development throughout their life.

“A sense of permanency can take many forms, such as legal guardianship or gaining a trusted mentor,” Corbally said. “It is building permanent connections – lifelong connections – and maybe not exactly what a family looks like to others, but to them – it’s who they’ll depend upon when they are young adults and grown-ups.”

The report is available online at http://www.aecf.org/. Additional information is available through the KIDS COUNT Data Center at http://datacenter.kidscount.org/, which allows users to create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices. 

Contact: Jennifer Calder, Montana KIDS COUNT communications director, UM Bureau of Business & Economic Research, 406-243-2725, jennifer.calder@business.umt.edu.