Tennessee Facing Challenges in Keeping Children in Foster Care in Families

National Rates Improve in 10-Year Data Snapshot with State-by-State Data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, But Tennessee Rate Falls
Tuesday, April 02, 2019 | 12:01am

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Although Tennessee’s efforts to prevent children from entering into its custody and to achieve permanency through adoption for those who cannot return to their families have been successful, it has work to do to assure children are placed in foster care and kinship families, according to “Keeping Kids in Families: Trends in U.S. Foster Care Placement.” The data snapshot released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation as part of its KIDS COUNT® project uses data from the child welfare system across all 50 states and the District of Columbia over a 10-year period to look at how placements for young people in foster care have changed.

The report finds that Tennessee has lagged behind other states, placing 77 percent of these young people in families in 2017, compared with 86 percent nationally. While most states have increased the percent of children in care placed in families since 2007, Tennessee’s rate dropped slightly from 79 percent. Just under half of teens in Tennessee custody were with families in 2017, a drop from 58 percent in 2007.

Nationally, data reveal the family placement rate for teens has remained stagnant, and there are persistent racial disparities for children of all ages in foster care.

“Tennessee has done well placing children ages 12 and under with families” said Rose Naccarato, director of Data and Communication for the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY), the Tennessee KIDS COUNT affiliate.

Seventy-seven percent of the 8,558 children in Tennessee’s care in 2017 were in family settings. Tennessee, with a 2 percentage decrease from 2007, was one of five states or territories with a decrease. Hawaii, New York, Puerto Rico and Washington State were the others.

State efforts that keep children in their families and help them attain permanent, “forever” families are not reflected in the report, which only reflects on children in state custody. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS), the state child welfare agency, operates In Home Family Support Services, which provides resources to reduce the likelihood of abuse and neglect and the risk of the removal of children from their homes. In fiscal year 2018, the state refined its program; however, federal funding is scheduled to end this fall. DCS has requested continued federal funding for this program.

The opioid crisis complicates efforts to reduce the number of children in foster care. DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols told the Legislature that the number of children in foster care has increased by more than 10 percent since 2016, primarily because of opioid abuse. State agencies are working through TNTogether to plan the state’s response to the opioid crisis.

In the years since the data compared were collected, DCS has been successful finding children permanent homes through adoption. In fiscal year 2017, it had its highest number of adoption finalizations, and the following year placed an even higher number.

The TNFosters program, begun in December 2016, focuses on foster care recruitment, working with partners, including the faith community, to address the need for families willing to open their homes and hearts to children in custody. It is affiliated with the national America’s Kids Belong and the Tennessee Alliance for Children and Families.

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." The new data suggest a growing consensus among practitioners and policymakers that young people in the child welfare system should live in families. 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 that produce the best outcomes for young people.

Key national findings from “Keeping Kids in Families” include:
• For teenagers, progress in family placements has been elusive. Nationwide, more than a third of young people in child welfare systems who are 13 and older lived in group placements in 2017 ― the same proportion as 10 years ago.
• A breakdown by race shows that progress is highly uneven. Systems increased the placement rate of white youth in family homes from 81 percent to 87 percent, but outcomes for Latino and African-American children improved by just 3 percent, and by just 1 percentage point for Asian-American children.

TCCY 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.

“Tennessee is the volunteer state and known for innovative responses,” Naccarato said. “We need to wrap our arms around this problem and find caring homes for all children in care”

About the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth
The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth is an independent agency created by the Tennessee General Assembly. Its primary mission is to advocate for improvements in the quality of life for Tennessee children and families. Information on the agency is available at www.tn.gov/tccy.

About the Annie E. Casey Foundation
The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org. KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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