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 in out-of-home care. Most children and youth can and should be served in family-like living arrangements in their home communities with needed services and supports.

Children and youth whose complex or acute behavioral health needs cannot be met safely and appropriately in family-like settings need high-quality and time-limited clinical interventions in more restrictive settings until they can return safely to their home communities. 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.

Chapin Hall conducted subsequent analyses to address three areas:

  1. describing residential care utilization patterns over time, including compliance with residential treatment requirements under the Family First Prevention Services Act;
  2. informing placement decision making for youth in residential care; and
  3. informing the development of community-based supports and services as an alternative to residential care.

Explore the Analysis of Youth Needs and the Availability of Community-Based Services for Youth in Residential Care report.

Brian Chor coauthored the article “Developing and Validating a Predictive Risk Model for Youth Placement in Residential Care to Support Decision-Making under the Family First Prevention Services Act,” published in Residential Treatment for Children and Youth.

The Chapin Hall team includes Policy Fellow Mary Sue Morsch, Research Fellow Brian Chor, Associate Researcher Cody Oltmans, Associate Researcher Sam Shapiro, Senior Policy Analyst Richard Foltz, and Policy Fellow Shaun Lane. Together, they are helping IL DCFS improve its services to Illinois youth, and reduce the state’s reliance on residential care.