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May 19, 2015
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For Immediate Release
Contact:  Mary Coogan | mcoogan@acnj.org| 732-580-9200

Most NJ Foster Kids Living with Families

With 91 percent of children in New Jersey’s foster care system living with families – not in institution-like settings – the state was among the top 10 nationally for providing this critical care for vulnerable children, according to a new KIDS COUNT® report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Many other states did not fare as well. Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success found that on any given night 57,000 children across the nation go to bed without the care and comfort of a family.

“In New Jersey, this shift from institutional to home-based care means more children have a better chance to have lifelong connections with a loving family,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, a statewide child action organization that heads the New Jersey Kids Count project.

“Our success in this area is largely the result of the settlement of a federal lawsuit on behalf of New Jersey’s foster children,” Zalkind explained. “One important requirement was that New Jersey’s child protection system place more children in home settings and reduce the use of group homes and institutions. That resulted in a commitment to provide the state funding necessary to build and maintain an infrastructure that better meet the needs of these vulnerable children.”

In 2004, roughly 1,900 New Jersey children in foster care were living in group homes or institutions. That number dropped 63 percent to about 700 children in 2013, according to the Casey report. New Jersey has also experienced an overall decline in the number of children in foster care over the past nine years that the state has been reforming the child protection system.

In 2006, more than 10,000 children were in out-of-home placement compared to about 7,400 in March 2015, according to the New Jersey Department of Children and Family statistics.

Every Kid Needs a Family emphasizes the critical importance of children having a lifelong connection to a family. The report also highlights promising ways that state and local government leaders, as well as policymakers, judges and others can work together to give every child that family.

Research shows that 40 percent of young people who live in group placements while in the care of this country’s child protection systems have no clinical need to be in such restrictive settings, threatening their well-being and chances for finding a permanent family. These placements also have been shown to be harmful to a child’s chances to develop strong, nurturing attachments. Not only is this bad for children, it costs more – roughly seven to 10 times the amount it takes to place a child with a relative or foster family.

“We have an obligation to help all of our kids succeed,” said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation. “If our children couldn’t live with us, we would want them to live with someone close to us – and if that couldn’t happen, with a caring foster family who could provide them with as normal a life as possible during a turbulent time. This report shows more kids can live safely in families and get the nurturing they need while under the care and protection of our child welfare systems.”

New Jersey reduced the use of group homes and institutions through several strategies, including:

  • Increasing the number of available foster homes,
  • Placing more children with relatives,  
  • Developing more therapeutic foster homes to care for children with emotional or behavioral needs,
  • Expanding the state’s mental health system for children and youth, including providing more in-home and community services to treat youth in their communities, not in institutions far from home.

“Much of this change came about because of the federal court settlement,” Zalkind said. “Before the settlement, our child protection system was essentially starved and neglected.’’

“That’s why recent reports that the state will seek to end court oversight of the system are disturbing,” Zalkind added. “Without that protection, the supports and services needed to provide children with a home in their communities could disappear.”

Across the nation, more jurisdictions are finding ways to increase the number of children being placed with families. But, these efforts vary widely from state to state and even within states, according to the Casey report, which found:

  • One in 7 children under the care of child welfare systems live in group placements, even though federal law requires that they live in families whenever possible.
  • Forty percent of the children in group placements have no documented behavioral or medical need that would warrant placement in such a restrictive setting.
  • While research shows children who need residential treatment likely need to stay no longer than three to six months, young people are staying in group placements an average of eight months.
  • Percentages of young people in group placements within states range from as low as 4 percent in Oregon to as high as 35 percent in Colorado.

“New Jersey is clearly ahead of the curve on this important front,” Zalkind said. “We must continue this commitment to protect our most vulnerable children and youth. Court oversight is an important piece to making sure that happens.”

To view the full report, visit www.aecf.org. Additional information is available in the KIDS COUNT Data Center, which also contains the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being. The Data Center allows users to create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices.


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.

Advocates for Children of New Jersey is a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan child action and research organization dedicating to ensuring that every child has the chance to grow up safe, healthy and educated.

Advocates for Children of New Jersey

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