In 2011, there were more than 400,000 children in foster care in the United States, including 61,000 who were in a group home or institution. While the past two decades have brought improvements to the child welfare system, most recently with the passage of the 2008 Fostering Connections Act, there are still thousands of children in need of a safe and stable home.
Child welfare involvement means a child is more likely to be a witness or victim of violence, less likely to graduate high school, and more likely to be prescribed psychotropic drugs than be provided the mental health therapy they need. Compounded by an uncoordinated service delivery system and governments that inadequately support them, system-involved youth have bleak outcomes. In too few cases does the outcome of a safe, stable permanent home get realized. And while nationally, the number of children in the system is declining, more children are staying in the system until they age out. In 2011, 26,000 youth emancipated without a permanent family.
Through the work of our fellows, we are interested in helping to address these and other challenges facing children and youth in the child welfare system. One solution lies in preventing children from entering out-of-home care. But for those children whose homes are not safe, we believe it is essential to create bridges between the child welfare, education and healthy employment systems, to help these vulnerable children obtain the services and supports they need.
Prevent Out-of-Home Placement
Preventing child maltreatment and entry into the child welfare system is critical to improving the life outcomes of vulnerable children. Building the capacity of families and communities to overcome the challenges of intergenerational trauma and violence, poverty, inadequate workforce development opportunities, and inferior health and mental health services are key to avoiding the situations that lead to child welfare involvement and the destabilizing impact of removing a child from his/her home. Stoneleigh has invested in Philadelphia's efforts to prevent out-of-home placement.
Improve Well-being of Children in the System
The education, health and overall well-being of children in foster care are of primary interest to Stoneleigh. Research consistently points to the fact that children who have experienced time in the child welfare system are more likely to have behavioral health problems, fail in school and lack competitiveness in the job market. Although the recent Fostering Connections legislation has made these well-being indicators a national priority, legislation alone is not enough to solve the challenge. Our fellows are contributing to the ongoing efforts of the child welfare community to apply research to strengthen practice for achieving these well-being goals.
Support Safe and Stable Families
A safe and stable home is the goal for all children, but particularly for those who enter the child welfare system. Unfortunately, not enough attention has been paid to helping parents and foster parents address their issues that lead to destabilizing situations. Our fellows contribute to family safety and stability through research, policy change, and practice improvement.