According to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, more Tennessee foster children are growing up in family settings instead of residential facilities.
Tennessee is doing something right when it comes to caring for foster children in the state. According to a report released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Volunteer State has reduced the percentage of children in custody who are housed in residential settings by nearly half since 2000. Linda O’Neal, executive director with the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, says children have a lot to learn in a family setting. “Tennessee is definitely on the right track, with a great emphasis on placing children in family placements whenever possible,” says O’Neal. “We know how important it is for children to grow up in families, where they really learn how families should interact.” According to the data, since 2000, Tennessee has increased the number of children in family settings by 25 percent. O’Neal notes the progress made in the state is significant because Tennessee is one of a small number of states where data in this report includes dependent, neglected children and children who have been in the court system for crimes. The report, Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success, recommends agencies work with families to keep children in their own homes by providing the resources, skills and services they need. Tracey Feild, director and manager of the Casey Foundation’s Child Welfare Strategy Group, says when kids are removed from families without cause, there can be lifelong ramifications. “Kids who live in families, supported through tough times have the best chance for life success,” she says. “Separating children unnecessarily from families exacts too high a price in both human terms and taxpayer dollars.” O’Neal says more children can be helped if individuals step up and offer support to people in their lives who may be struggling to raise their children. “We know Tennessee could do better if more families would step up and provide support for their extended families that are struggling to care for their children if they have to come into state custody,” she says. “We know the state always needs more foster families that are willing to give the love and support to young people.” According to the report, relatives can offer a familiar relationship and connection to a child’s identity and culture, ultimately making an eventual return home easier.