Report: Youth Experiences of Institutional Placements

Report: Youth Experiences of Institutional Placements

An announcement from Sixto Cancel, former foster youth and CEO of Think Of Us, on the release of their report on July 21

Think of Us is proud to publish Away From Home: Youth Experiences of Institutional Placements in Foster Care, our new report on the lived experience of foster youth living in long-term institutional placements within the foster care system. We wanted to hear how foster youth speak in their own voices about their time in group foster care.

For far too long, the national conversation about the foster care system has neglected to even ask what life in the foster care system is like for foster care youth. These are young people with stories to tell – stories that deserve to be told. Our team, which included three teammates with lived experience in foster care, engaged 78 foster youth aged 18-25 and used qualitative social research methods to empower them to speak their minds. 

But when we sat down to listen, what we heard was truly heartbreaking. When I read this report, I felt sick to my stomach. I had always known that institutional placements like group homes fell far short of delivering the kind of care that families can. But after this study, I believe wholeheartedly that institutional placements aren’t just bad; they are fundamentally broken and need to be eliminated. 

Throughout the report, you will find foster youth describing how their time in institutional placements made them feel like prisoners; they were monitored, punished and treated like criminals. They were prevented from building friendships. And worst of all, they were abused. Again and again, these young people tell of how they came to their group home carrying the heaven burden of trauma, and they left with the even greater burden of physical, emotional and even sexual abuse. 

Our mission at Think of Us is to change the foster care system to better serve and care for foster youth. This report shows clearly that institutional placements are failing to meet the mandate of child welfare; we now know that group homes do not help but only hinder caring for the young and the traumatized. It is time to make a change.
In light of how important I think this report is, I am eager to share Away From Homewith all of you today. I am asking you to:

  • Read Away From Home. Use the Discussion Guide to facilitate conversations about the report and institutional placements.
  • Take a look at the Summary Deckthat highlights the findings in the report.
  • Share the report on social media.
  • Participate in our social media campaign by sharing answers to the cultural probes online using the hashtag #awayfromhome.
  • Join us on August 5 at 3:30 p.m. EDT for the National Readout of Away From Home, which highlights the findings and recommendations of the report and includes participants from the study.
  • Join us on September 9 for an event on the methodology of the project called Centering Lived Experience: Methodology of Away From Home, at 3:30 p.m. EDT.
  • Share the report among your professional networks.

As devastating as Away From Home is to read, I am immensely proud of the young people who had the courage to tell their stories. And I am filled with gratitude for everyone who helped them to share their lived experiences. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this project. 

We have been working on Away From Home since September 2020, and I am honored to be doing such important work alongside our partners at the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Casey Family Programs. But our work is far from finished. 

Going forward, we are committed to working with the Annie E. Casey Foundation in calling for an end to the group home system. Away From Home has shown quite clearly that institutional placements harm foster youth and has already inspired many state and local leaders to join the Annie E. Casey Foundation in the fight to change our foster care system by sharing resources, strategies and materials about how to end group homes. If you are interested in being a part of this learning and sharing community, please contact Rodney Brittingham at [email protected]. We hope that everyone who feels inspired and energized by the courage of the foster youth we interviewed will join us in this work.

I want to conclude by thanking you – the reader – for listening to these foster care youth share their lived experiences, however difficult these experiences are for us to hear. We have so much work to do to better serve our nation’s foster care youth. I hope this report is as much a call to action for you as it is for me.

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