Report: More Arkansas Foster Children Connected to Families

Older Children More Likely to Live in Group Settings, New Data Snapshot Shows

Arkansas is slowly improving the ratio of young people in foster care who are connected to families, an important marker in the state’s effort to improve long-term outcomes in the child welfare system. A decade of state and national improvement is outlined in “Keeping Kids in Families: Trends in Placement of Young People in Foster Care in the United States,” a new data snapshot released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation as part of its KIDS COUNT project.

In Arkansas, 82 percent of children in foster care were connected to families at the end of fiscal 2017, a slight improvement over 80 percent a decade ago. That means those young people were living in foster homes, with relatives, or in pre-adoptive placements, for example.  Arkansas made a significant increase in the percentage of children placed in relative foster homes from 11 percent in 2007 to 24 percent in 2017.

“Arkansas should be applauded for its efforts in increasing the percentage of children in relative foster homes. If a child cannot remain safely in their home with their parents, the next best option is to look for family that they can be placed with,” said Jennifer Ferguson, deputy director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

But the snapshot shows that older foster youth – those 13 and older – are much more likely to live in group placements in Arkansas than the national average, and the percentage is on the rise here. Of Arkansas foster youth 13 and older, 48 percent were in non-family settings like shelters and group homes in 2017, compared to 41 percent in 2007. Nationally, 34 percent of those in the same age range were in group settings, the same percentage as 10 years before.

“Young people in foster care are much more likely to have better outcomes if they’re connected to families – whether it’s a placement with a relative or a foster home setting,” said Jennifer Ferguson, deputy director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. “Our state has worked to improve this measure, but we still have work to do, especially for older youth.”

Using data from the child welfare system across all 50 states and the District of Columbia to look at how placements for young people in foster care have changed, the Casey Foundation report finds that nationwide, care systems placed 86 percent of these children in families in 2017, compared with 81 percent in 2007.

African-American and Hispanic young people, both at the state and national level, are more likely to live in group settings than family settings. In Arkansas, 17 percent of non-Hispanic white children in the foster system live in group settings, compared to 19 percent of black children and 21 percent of Hispanic children. The percentage of Hispanic children in group settings jumped up over the decade, from 14 percent in 2007.

Being part of a family is a basic human need and essential to well-being, especially for children, teenagers and young adults who are rapidly developing and transitioning to independence, as documented in the Casey Foundation’s 2015 report, Every Kid Needs a Family. While many shelters and group homes are safe and well-run, research shows they should be short-term placements. Children who are in group settings long-term are more likely to have negative long-term outcomes, from being jailed to becoming homeless to experiencing early pregnancies.

Through the Family First Prevention Services Act, signed into law in 2018, states are empowered to prioritize family placement and high-quality, family-centered settings. Arkansas applied for and received funding provided through Family First to assist relatives raising children in foster care. The state received a $295,544 Kinship Connect Grant last year to hire a staff member to provide support for family members caring for their relatives in foster care and ensure they have adequate information about benefits and other programs that may be available to them. They are also using the funds to develop a “family finding” program to help conduct intensive searches to locate relatives and fictive kin who may be able to serve as a foster home or provide other supports for the children.

“We applaud the state for continuing to take steps like this one to support these placements and to make sure families have the resources they need,” Ferguson said.

Arkansas Advocates joins the Casey Foundation in calling on child welfare systems to use the opportunities afforded by Family First to increase available services to stabilize families. Similarly, states can:

  • Prioritize recruitment of kin and foster families for older youth and youth of color in recruitment planning;
  • Engage families in decision making, since kin and foster parents should be treated as important members of a child’s team;
  • Require director approval for non-kin placements.

For more information, you can read the KIDS COUNT data snapshot here.