Residential Care Research

Helping one child welfare system reduce its use of residential care

All child welfare systems face the challenge of providing quality care to children who do not live with their birth families. Some children and youth in the care of child welfare systems need more intensive treatment than can be provided in a private home. Those youth go to residential care where they receive specialized treatment to address the effects of trauma, for example, or substance abuse.

These placements–also referred to as congregate care–are ones that child welfare systems want to keep to a minimum. The settings are more restrictive, do not offer a family environment, and should only last as long as clinically necessary, after which youth can return to a home setting.

In Illinois, Chapin Hall is working with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to assess the frequency with which young people are placed in residential care, how long they are staying, and how quickly they are able to transition to less restrictive settings, such as foster homes or homes of relatives. This analysis enabled us to develop a model that will help the system anticipate who is likely to be placed in residential care. This model was enhanced by incorporating Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) data, which allows DCFS to anticipate placement in residential care using a wider variety of characteristics. That, in turn, can lead to earlier service provisions to prevent that placement.

The Chapin Hall team includes Policy Fellow Mary Sue Morsch, Senior Researcher Brian Chor, and Associate Researcher Zhidi Luo. Together, they are helping IL DCFS improve its services to Illinois youth, and reduce the state’s reliance on residential care.