Data-Driven Solutions are Key to Reductions in Congregate Care

Congregate care has long been viewed as an appropriate placement alternative for children and adolescents, especially those whose histories, mental health needs, and behavior are difficult to manage in home-based settings. However, the appropriateness and effectiveness of congregate care is increasingly being called into question. Chapin Hall and the Chadwick Center jointly produced this brief, the first in a series on data use in child welfare, to inform efforts to safely reduce youth placement in congregate care.

What we did

Chapin Hall and the Chadwick Center analyzed data resources to:

  • Describe the population of youth involved with the child welfare system in terms of their need for intensive services;
  • Identify strategies that are available to support these youth in home-based placements;
  • Examine variation in patterns of current congregate care placement across the country.

Data was drawn from the Multistate Foster Care Data Archive, the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being, and the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare.

What we found

Our analysis of administrative data showed that:

  • The overall use of congregate care has decreased by 20% since 2009, but there is substantial variation among states even in this trend.
  • Some states rely heavily on congregate care as a first placement.
  • Youth placed in congregate care and therapeutic foster homes have significantly higher levels of internalizing and externalizing behaviors than those placed in traditional foster care.
  • Compared to youth whose clinical needs are met through therapeutic foster care, youth placed in congregate care are more likely have externalizing problems.
  • The California Evidence Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (CEBC) contains tested strategies for disruptive behavior problems, however, many of them have not been tested for use with the child welfare population.

What it means

Any effort to reduce the use of congregate care must be paired with increasing the number of more home-like settings to meet the needs of children now in group placements. The variation in congregate care use by state means that any transition will require a tailored approach. Based on our findings, states should consider:

  • Building capacity for skilled and/or specialized home-based placement, and training those homes to de-escalate difficult behavior.
  • Supporting access to evidence-based interventions designed to help stabilize foster and kinship care placements.
  • Providing resources to implement evidence-based approaches that deflect youth from congregate care settings.
  • Developing funding streams that support flexibility in the delivery and intensity of outpatient services.
Recommended Citation
Chadwick Center and Chapin Hall. (2016). Using evidence to accelerate the safe and effective reduction of congregate care for youth involved with child welfare. San Diego, CA & Chicago, IL: Collaborating at the Intersection of Research and Policy.
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