Annapolis, MD – In a new survey, young people in foster care tell pollsters that group homes and institutional care need to end, and policymakers should prioritize in-home placements. Maryland is faring better than other states: Only two percent of its 3,800 foster youth under age 12 live in group homes. Comments from study co-author Sixto Cancel, CEO of the nonprofit Think of Us; and Sandra Gasca-Gonzalez ("GAH-skah"), vice president, Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Center for Systems Innovation.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Almost 4,000 children in Maryland are in foster care, and a new study calls for ending the use of group homes and institutions based on interviews with some of the children.

In the “Away from Home” report, young people in care describe institutional placements as prison-like and punitive, causing trauma based on abuses they have experienced.

Sixto Cancel, CEO of the nonprofit Think of Us and co-author of the study, said the most important step is to focus on replacing institutions with better alternatives, especially because foster youth have been repeatedly told there is “nowhere else to go.”

“They were afraid that if we eliminate group homes, that youth would be homeless,” Cancel explained. “Then we asked the question, ‘If there were enough foster homes should we eliminate these places?’ And the overwhelming answer was, ‘Yes.'”

Maryland has been backing away from group settings for foster care in the past decade. In 2019, only 2% of Maryland’s foster youth under age 12 were in group homes, and 1.4% were in institutional settings, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Sandra Glasca-Gonzalez, vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Center for Systems Innovation, thinks the report will have a positive influence on policymakers and people who work in the child welfare system to make much-needed changes.

“One of the hopes that we’ve had is that child welfare leaders would walk away even more committed to working on behalf of all kids in foster care,” Glasca-Gonzalez pointed out. “As if they were their own daughters and sons, nieces, nephews, based on what they would want for their own.”

Maryland’s Department of Human Services just launched the MyLife website to help foster youth ages 13 to 21 make successful transitions to adulthood. The site was developed with input from young people in foster care across the state and includes resources on social awareness and self-care, housing and homelessness services and the “Ready by 21” program.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

Diane Bernard is a digital and radio journalist based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area with more than 10 years of journalism experience. Her print and online credits include work for The Washington...

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