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Report: Maine Leads in Placing Foster Youth with Families

Maine ranks among the highest states for placement of children and teens in foster care with relatives and families.  (Juhan Sonin/Flickr)
Maine ranks among the highest states for placement of children and teens in foster care with relatives and families. (Juhan Sonin/Flickr)
April 5, 2019

ELLSWORTH, Maine – A new Annie E. Casey Foundation report shows that more young people in foster care have been placed with families than in group homes over the last decade – and Maine is leading the way.

In 2017, Maine placed 94% of foster children in family settings, making it one of the top six states in the country. Maine also has a higher share of teens living with families.

Ken Olson is executive director of KidsPeace National Centers of New England, which serves young people in foster care. Olson thinks Maine is doing a good job because the state and private agencies are training more foster families to support children with complex needs.

"These are kids that, 15 years ago, would have been sent to a group home,” says Olson. “They are able to be maintained because the foster family is specially trained and the private agencies carry low caseloads, and are able to provide crisis response and more regular support to that family."

Olson describes this as "therapeutic foster care." He says the state has seen that outcomes are better for young people placed with families and supportive services than in group homes.

Rob Geen, director of policy and advocacy reform with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, says Maine is one of 16 states now placing at least 90% of children with families. The report also acknowledges the need for residential care facilities for some young people with acute needs.

"If a child needs a therapeutic intervention that is not appropriate in a family setting, of course we want them to have very high-quality residential care,” says Geen. “But the point of that is for them to then succeed in a family later on."

Olson agrees with this assessment. But he sees many residential facilities closing – which has an unintended consequence.

"Right now, we have 80-some kids in the state of Maine that are placed out of state in residential care,” says Olson. “And that's been sort of the downside to the reform efforts in Maine is that we simply don't have some of the resources we need."

Olson says he is encouraged by the new administration in Maine, and hopes the state can invest more resources in the foster care system. The "Keeping Kids in Families" report is on the Annie E. Casey Foundation's website.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - ME