Health

Kentucky ranks 9th nationwide in the rate of foster kids living in group homes or institutions. And while the percentage of foster kids in group homes increased between 2007 and 2017, the rate of these kids in family settings grew more slowly. That’s according to a new report out Tuesday from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

In 2017, 81 percent of foster children under age 18 lived with families, whether that was with actual relatives or non-relatives. That’s the seventh-lowest rate in the nation.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said family preservation is important to the long-term health of a child. He said Kentucky has a ways to go in placing children in family settings, as opposed to settings like group homes.

“So if we can hold families together, that’s always the best, and frankly, the most inexpensive approach to protect and vulnerable kids,” Brooks said. “At the other end of the continuum is out-of-home care, which would be congregant or group home care. We know that, in rare instances, children really need that. Those placements should be rare, and short term.”

Between 2007 and 2017, the number of kids living with families in foster care increased one percentage point in Kentucky. The percentage of foster kids in group homes rose by 3 percent. Older foster kids — age 12 and over — were increasingly likely to be in group homes; that age group saw a 12 percent increase over that time period.

“Finding a placement for a 15-year-old, is just flat out harder than finding a placement for a five-year- old — they’re harder placements,” Brooks said. “There’s [also] more challenges around little boys and little girls of color, especially older kids of color. Those are the populations that tend to still be relegated to congregate, or group home placements. And we need to first of all own those data points and admit that there is some disproportionately involved.”

Other key Kentucky takeaways from the report:

  • Foster kids under age 12 had a higher rate of living with a non-relative family (82 percent) than children over age 12. Five percent lived with relatives in foster care, five percent lived in group homes and six percent lived in pre-adoptive homes or with trial placements.
  • For foster kids age 12 and over, 51 percent lived with a non-relative family. Five percent lived with relatives in foster care, 34 percent lived in a group home and six percent lived in a pre-adoptive home.
  • Black and multiracial children were more likely to live in group homes or institutions than white children.

The data came from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, a national database.

Brooks said the data doesn’t account for kids living outside of the home but not in the foster care system, like in the kinship care program. That program gives families much less money and resources than families in the foster care program.

According to data from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, there are approximately 15,000 kids in kinship care due to removal from their home. There were 8,089 kids living in some type of foster care in Kentucky at the end of fiscal year 2017.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.