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17% of Puerto Rican Foster Care Youths in Group Homes; U.S. Senate Committee Examines Problems

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s new  KIDS COUNT® policy report, Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success was released today, reporting that 17% of Foster Care children in Puerto Rico reside in a group home rather than with a family.

Family placements are considered more desirable for children’s development. Children in group placements are less likely to find permanent family placements before they age out of the system. They are less likely to develop strong relationships, more likely to be abused, and more likely to be arrested once they leave the system.

Puerto Rico’s 17% is about midway between the highs and lows in the states: 4 percent in Oregon and 35 percent in Colorado.

The information was released in conjunction with a hearing by the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance in a hearing entitled, “No Place to Grow Up: How to Safely Reduce Reliance on Foster Care Group Homes.”

In his opening statement, Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) noted his findings from previous congressional hearings, concluding that group homes “are literally breeding grounds for the sexual exploitation of children and youth.”  Hatch, who explained that traffickers learn where  group homes are located and target the children placed in them for abuse, seeks to combat the problem by eliminating the federal match to group homes for very young children and, after a defined period of time, for older youth.  Hatch’s bill, as he explained, would “refocus federal priorities on connecting vulnerable youth with caring, permanent families.”

The Casey Foundation has recommendations for improving the situation that could help in Puerto Rico as much as the states:

  • Increase service options. The Foundation recommends that Medicaid and other public health services work together to provide the kind of support families need to stay together. Puerto Rico does not receive the same level of support for Medicaid and for some other Federal services as the States do.
  • Strengthen pool of families. Children may be placed in group settings not because they need a restrictive setting because of health or behavioral issues, but simply because no family is available. The Foundation recommends that communities set up plans to find relatives more effectively. The differences in support of adoptive families between Puerto Rico and the mainland may also affect family members’ ability to care for children; see further information below.
  • Keep residential treatment short, with family in focus. The Foundation reports that kids remain institutionalized up to twice as long as should be medically necessary. Their recommendation is that residential treatment be closely monitored and clearly leading toward he children’s return to their families.
  • Require justification for restrictive placements. The foundation recommends that Puerto Rico follow the lead of states like Pennsylvania and Connecticut, and make sure that residential placements are cleared and overseen at the highest level, where everyday obstacles will be less of a factor in decision making. The Foundation believes that only the few children who cannot live safely with a family should be placed in residential care.

A National Council of La Raza report presented to the Subcommittee on Human Resources of the House Ways and Means Committee in 2003 pointed out the disparities between funding for adoptive parents in Puerto Rico and on the mainland, and the consequences of these disparities. Current data from the National Council on Adoptable Children shows that the disparity continues.

  • The basic subsidy for children 7 – 11  years old in Puerto Rico is $105.00; in Mississippi it is $355-$375 (age divisions differ).
  • The basic subsidy for teens in Puerto Rico is $174.00; in Mississippi it is $390-$400.
  • The basic rate in Puerto Rico for children adopted from foster care who have special medical needs is $207.00; in Mississippi, it may be as high as $900, depending on the specific diagnoses and needs of the children.

See the new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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