How NJ reduced its foster-care population by thousands
Compared to just five years ago, the number of minors in foster care in the Garden State is down by more than 2,700.
The New Jersey Department of Children and Families attributes the decrease to a culture shift that includes a deeper focus on strengthening families following reports of abuse or neglect, not punishing them.
"The comeback would be, so are you leaving children at risk? And that simply hasn't been the case at all," Clinton Page, deputy director for DCF's Division of Child Protection and Permanency, told New Jersey 101.5.
In 2017, more than 5,900 children statewide, aged 0 to 17, were in foster care. That count was as high as 13,000 in 2003. As of July 18 of this year, the total was a little more than 3,150.
"We have emphasized with the staff that when you're thinking about safety interventions and removing children, it absolutely needs to be the last resort," Page said.
Instead, he said, staff responding to reports of abuse or neglect are making it a goal to "team" with families, having honest conversations about how parents' actions are impacting their children, and perhaps going as far as offering daily checkups in hopes of getting the family refocused as a unit.
"We have a lot of therapeutic supports for families that we put in early on, to help prevent removals from occurring," Page said.
DCF reguarly tracks critical incidents among children, as well as deaths and near fatalities, and the "numbers have not ticked up as a result of our efforts," Page said.
The drop in the number of children in placement can also be attributed to a prioritization of kinship care when out-of-home placement is required. When placed with a relative, family friend or close contact, the child is less likely to move around the system and more likely to be reunified with their original family.
In 2021, for the first time ever, more children in New Jersey were placed with kin than in other settings. More than 2,000 children were discharged from DCF's custody last year. Of that total, 122 "aged out" with the goal of independent living.
Resource homes needed
Thanks to a drop in the number of children needing placement, New Jersey currently has a solid list of routine foster parents.
But there is a need for resource families who can meet the unique needs of certain populations:
- Children and youth with complex behavioral health, developmental and medical needs
- Adolescent youth, ages 13-17
- Sibling groups of 4 or more
- NJ children and youth cleared for adoption
Head to this DCF page if you're interested in becoming a resource family.
Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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