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Expanding Family-Based Foster Care in PA

Children in family-based foster care have better short and long-term outcomes.  (Catherine ScottFamily/Wikimedia Commons)
Children in family-based foster care have better short and long-term outcomes. (Catherine ScottFamily/Wikimedia Commons)
May 5, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Children in family-based foster care do much better than those placed in group settings, according to a new report. The report, "Congregate Foster Care in PA," from the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, said kids in family care do better in school, face fewer problems with drugs and alcohol, and maintain better relationships with siblings.

Joan Benso, president of the group, said the commonwealth has made a lot of progress, but still places children in group homes or institutions more often than 40 other states.

"The national average is about 14 percent," she said. "Pennsylvania ranks so low because we place about 21 percent of our children and youth in congregate settings."

Recommendations include increasing placement with relatives, and regularly reviewing the placement of those for whom congregate care is the best available option.

The state has taken steps to reduce the need for foster care, such as increasing funding for home visits to at-risk mothers and their infants. Benso believes more could be done.

"We need to continue to build community-based behavioral health-care systems that allow us to serve children in a family setting, rather than needing to institutionalize children for very serious behavioral health-care needs," she added.

She said that placement with a family or relatives is not only better for the child, it's much more cost effective.

"The cost of placing a child in a group home or an institution is seven times more costly," she said. "So it costs much more to the taxpayers and we don't get better results for our investment."

Benso notes that there are some circumstances, such as access to special services, when placement in a congregate setting may be necessary, but it should be a last resort.

The full report can be read online here.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA