While there is an extreme lack of support and involvement within the foster care system, there is an even smaller support system for a larger sector known as group homes.
Group homes are one of the most underfunded sectors of foster care, yet it is the most utilized and populated facility for youth in the system. With the lack of money allocated to these facilities that are intended to ensure the safety of foster youth, they end up becoming a haven for abuse, violence, and corruption of youth.
According to a Kids Count report released in 2015 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, more than 56,000 children in child welfare systems are living in group settings, and about 23,000 of those children had no documented clinical or behavioral need that warranted placement in these settings.
The report also said that children should be kept with families or in foster homes whenever possible, and courts should have to provide “substantial justification” for placements in settings like group homes.
Marsh, the chief financial officer and founder of a group home agency in North Carolina, said that many foster youths are misdiagnosed so that they are approved to be placed in a group home facility. Marsh has been affiliated with the mental health system for almost 20 years and said that continuous budget cuts for groups homes have affected many areas of treatment but has specifically affected the quality of care.
Marsh said that there is a fine line between criminals and mental health patients and that it is sometimes difficult finding professionals that are properly trained to provide quality care. He strongly believes that the issue exists because of strained resources and he often sees inadequate staff skill levels because the agency can’t afford to keep skilled staff.
Martell Logan, the former chief operating officer of Marsh’s group home agency, explained how the staff undergo screenings for criminal offenses, but the system does not allocate money for psychological evaluations. He said that the staff members sometimes see themselves in the youth; oftentimes they may practice harmful acts that puts the clients in danger and leads to abuse within the system.
In Logan’s opinion, staff evaluation is critical to the success of client’s rehabilitation.
Logan expressed that the judicial system is distributing minimal amounts of money for care but have high expectations for these facilities and their associated staff members.
Each year, politicians are cutting more and more money for Medicare and Medicaid, programs that are usually responsible for youth in the foster care system. The 2018 federal budget and tax reform plans to take $473 billion out of Medicare and about $1 trillion from Medicaid over the next decade.
Such budget cuts are not only impacting the quality and evaluation of staff members, but also the evaluation of youth traveling through the foster care system.
Behavioral issues are often not examined or diagnosed until a child enters into the system. Typically, youth do not display any issues until the ages of nine or 10. Once the child is placed into DSS care, it is the responsibility of health professionals to care for these individuals.
Oftentimes, the rehabilitation window is often too small.
“It’s like having a wound, but not treating it until its infected,” said Logan. “Signs are displayed early in youth behavior, and the system is delayed in reacting to these signs.”
Marsh said that these issues in foster youth are sometimes learned behavior from their prior environments and that greater emphasis should be put on studying the youth’s family dynamics. He said it is important to understand the “why” in order to increase the success rate of clients once they leave the system.
Marsh and Logan both agreed that increasing funding for group homes could help decrease the lag time that it takes for kids to be properly diagnosed or placed in foster care.
Logan said that, overall, group homes engage in a holistic approach to helping children. Rather than shutting down this sector, efforts should be in place to increase funding and proactivity will lead to clients successfully completing goals and returning to society.
Marsh explained how increased funding would increase and improve the number of housing options for youth, improve the staff to client ratio, improve the quality of care within facilities and essentially reduce the bad connotation associated with group homes.
“In order to encourage policy makers to increase the funding for group homes, there first needs more conversation about what can be done to improve the system,” Marsh said. “This task will require support and involvement from health services, Local Managements Entities, state regulators and, most importantly, our community.”