Every child needs a safe place to live.
During the development that take place in childhood and adolescence, positive experiences in nurturing communities and homes form a solid foundation for lifelong well-being. Sometimes – due to things like parental drug use or neglect, involvement in the juvenile justice system or behavioral challenges – children are removed from their homes and families and placed in out-of-home placements like youth prisons / detention centers, residential treatment or mental institutions. This experience creates toxic levels of stress that destabilize the foundation supporting a child’s healthy cognitive, physical, emotional and social development. Rather than disrupting development with out-of-home placements, we can achieve better outcomes for our young people and our neighborhoods by creating healthier environments at home and in our communities.
Many communities require government agencies to use the “least restrictive alternative," yet maintain an institutional bias for young people with complex needs, such as exposure to trauma, mental health challenges, addiction, disconnection from school, family instability, inequality and poverty. Placement out of the home still occurs too often, despite evidence that removal from one’s family is traumatizing, expensive, and leads to other poor outcomes later in life, including diminished resilience. Worse, youth often languish in congregate care facilities much longer than necessary, contributing to additional, unnecessary toxic stress that negatively affects their well-being.
While fewer kids are in institutional settings today than in recent years, communities can reduce their use of institutional placement and family separation even more aggressively through implementing community-based programs with capacity to provide intensive support to families in need.