Research released this week shows that, compared to the rest of the country, Pennsylvania is more likely to place foster youth in group homes and institutional care.
According to a new Annie E. Casey Foundation report, 47 percent of the state’s foster children aged 14 to 21 live in these facilities. The national rate for foster children of the same age is 34 percent.
Jenny Pokempner, Child Welfare Policy Director at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, said counties in Pennsylvania should reduce their use of group homes. Such facilities tend to be relatively unstable, she said.
“You’re talking about settings where you are living with several other young people,” Pokempner explained. “And they could have really great people who are working at the group facility, but they are staff, and many of them are shift workers, and many of they are very young.”
Pokempner said child-welfare specialists generally agree that children in foster care tend to fare better in family-based settings. She noted that Allegheny County places many of its youth with family or family friends, making it a model for the rest of the country.
The study also found that, in Pennsylvania, foster youth aged 14 to 21 are more likely than their counterparts nationally to experience homelessness. The data show that 63 percent of the Pennsylvania cohort had stable housing, compared to 70 percent nationally. The report considered young people to have stable housing if they did not report experiencing homelessness between the ages of 17 and 21.
The study used data from the American Community Survey, which the U.S. Census Bureau administers between decennial census. The foundation said the data set was “the most comprehensive ... ever collected across all 50 states.”
Pokempner of the Juvenile Law Center noted that housing is one of the biggest challenges young people face as they age out of the system.
“Housing is one of the things that really puts so much fear in them about, ‘where am I going to be tonight?'” she said. “And if I don’t have housing, can I pursue higher education or training because I’m going to need to make sure I can pay my rent?”
The new data show that foster youth across the country are far less likely than their non-foster peers to have full- or part-time jobs by age 21. They’re also less likely to earn a high school diploma or GED before turning 21. They're more likely, however, to be African-American or Latino than the country as a whole.