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Written by Washington Foster Team
May 22, 2019
“Washington continues to send foster youths to other out-of-state group homes where authorities have documented short staffing, medication mix-ups, children running away, as well as instances of workers improperly restraining and even assaulting youths.” — WA Foster Kids Sent To Out-Of-State Group Homes With Checkered Records, Investigate West

In an ideal world, every child who entered the foster care system would find placement with a caring and loving family. In reality, there aren’t enough foster families available. When a child doesn’t have anywhere to go, they end up in a foster group home.

Unfortunately, those homes rarely provide the same opportunities for children to receive the support they need. In fact, a new report by Investigate West reveals that many children in Washington State end up in out-of-state group homes where they become the victims of abuse and neglect.

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Investigate West Report Findings

Investigate West’s report revealed repeated instances of child abuse and neglect in out-of-state group homes. Examples in the report included staff:

  • Using improper restraints that left children with bruises, broken bones, and other injuries
  • Assaulting youth because they were tired and frustrated
  • Mixing up medications
  • Failing to prevent assault, including sexual assault, between youth within the home

While many homes retained fines and disciplinary action, they continued to operate, which begs the question: why are we sending our youth to these places?

Why Are Kids Sent Out of State?

Because of significant budget cuts, Washington's group homes don’t have the capacity to house all of the state’s foster children. So, many are sent to out-of-state group homes.

One of the problems with this strategy is that it separates children from any connections or family that are local, drastically reducing a child’s hopes of being reunited with their biological parents or other family members.

In most cases, youth designated for out-of-state group homes have had difficulties within the foster system, either because of behavioral or mental health issues.

But, as Jill May, Executive Director at WACF notes, “These children are not delinquent, they are just like any other child. They often lash out after placement, but this is largely due to believing that a foster family is just the next family to give up on them.”

Hope for a Better Future

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In light of conditions at out-of-state group homes, Washington State has committed to bringing all youth back to the state within two years. But experts still don’t know where those kids will go.

Limited funding has been approved to add up to 39 more beds for foster youth, but the impending need calls for something closer to 300 beds. In the meantime, we believe the following practices can help stabilize agencies and reduce the number of children that end up in group homes long term.

  • Provide a continuum of care so that children are not “stuck” in a group home
  • Improve foster family recruitment, especially for children who have special needs
  • Conduct repeated assessments to determine if a child can return home

Finding a solution to the problem is critical, especially for older youth whose status when they leave foster care can have a huge impact on their futures. Studies have shown that youth who are moved from foster home to foster home are less likely to graduate from high school, and more likely to end up homeless or incarcerated.

“These youth should not feel as though the system is their family. The state is not a good parent. We need to find additional support for these youth so they can thrive outside of the foster care system,” says May.

More available foster families are the best hope for youth in group homes. By welcoming a foster child into your family, you can help reduce the number of children who end up struggling to find a place they can call home.

Ready to make a difference in the life of a child? Learn more about the process of becoming a foster parent by checking out our resource: Is Foster Parenting Right For You?

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