Away From Home

An in-depth report on the experiences and perspectives of young people who have recently lived in institutional placements in foster care.

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Who

Current and former foster youth with lived experience in institutional placements

Why

Centering recent lived experiences and perspectives of youth in the ongoing conversation about the reform or elimination of institutional placements in foster care.

Conditions of Systems Change

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Policy
Resource Flows
Power Dynamics
Practices
Relationships + Connections
Mental Models

The Challenge

The death of Cornelius Fredericks, a 16-year-old Black foster youth, by staff of a Michigan group home in May 2020 sparked a moment of profound reflection about the use of institutional placements in foster care. For years, and increasingly following Cornelius’s death, leaders within and outside of child welfare have argued for a reduction or elimination of institutions, highlighting the high cost of institutions, how they are void of family-centered care, and that they are disproportionately harmful to Black and Brown youth.

With little being done to overhaul the system, Think of Us believed that what was missing from the conversation was a deeper understanding of the experiences and perspectives of young people who have recently lived in institutional placements.

The Action

Think of Us conducted the Away From Home study, centering the voices of youth with recent lived experiences in the larger conversation about how to approach reform or elimination of institutional placements in foster care. The Away From Home report shares the stories and qualitative data of these youth, resulting in a bold call to action: institutional placements need to be eliminated in the United States.

The Stats

  • 78 youth across 30 states with recent lived experiences in institutional placements participated in the study.
  • 48,823 children live in institutional placements. This is 10% of the foster care population nationwide.
  • Institutional placements can cost 7-10x  more than family-based placements.
  • Black youth represent 13% of US youth under 18, yet are 23% of foster youth and 30% of group care population.

The Results

Because of the findings from Away From Home, Think of Us believes institutional placements in foster care need to be eliminated.

The Away From Home study found that institutional placements:

  • Failed to meet the mandate of child welfare of safety, permanency, and well-being
  • Were prison-like and punitive
  • Were traumatic and unfit for healthy child and adolescent development
  • Shielded youth from building relationships that would get them out of institutions
  • Were environments in which youth felt like they didn’t have a way out


The pre-publication presentation of Away From Home to states resulted in states committing to reduce or eliminate institutional placements.

Centering Lived Experience

  • Away From Home shares stories and qualitative data from 78 youth with recent lived experiences in institutional placements, sharing their voices through two methods: individual interviews and open-ended cultural probes 
  • Include two individuals with lived experience in institutional placements in foster care on the research team
  • All participants were invited to review the draft report to clarify, correct, or edit the draft. 56% of participants completed the participant review and 95% supported the recommendations of the report.
  • Lived Expert Review Board - Five subject matter experts with personal lived experience in foster care, independent of this study, conducted a thorough peer review of the report, supported framing of conclusions and recommendations and provided guidance on how to incorporate comments from research participants, as well as how to disseminate the study’s findings 
  • Participants were invited to participate in launch of Away From Home including filming of the readout and the press launch.
  • Participants and the Lived Expert Review Board were compensated financially for each piece of the project they engaged in.

Key Stakeholders

  • Youth with recent lived experience in group foster care institutional placements in foster care
  • The Annie E. Casey Foundation
  • Casey Family Programs

Researchers

  • Think of Us: Alexandria Ware, Bobbi Taylor, Sarah Fathallah, Sarah Sullivan, Sixto Cancel
  • Annie E. Casey Foundation - Rodney Brittingham
  • Casey Family Programs - Anne Marie Ambrose 

Geographic Location

Nationwide

Time Frame

Initial research September-October 2020

Peer review process January-May 2021

Report released July 2021

Budget

$135K

Philanthropic
Earned Revenue
Government Contract

Approach

Strategic
Opportunistic

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