Does Florida have enough foster homes? (It’s at 2/3 capacity.)

I have read a lot in the news lately about the foster care crisis. By many accounts, the growth in out-of-home care (OOHC) has been driven in part by a growing epidemic of drug cases. In previous posts, I’ve shown that the data does not exactly bear that out and the growth is more likely a result of policy changes, especially policies on how cases with available relatives are handled.  I don’t deny there’s been an uptick in drug cases, but the expansion is probably a result in fewer cases being referred to voluntary services while the children stay with a relative under a safety plan.

Another theme in these news reports is the lack of foster homes. So let’s take a look at those numbers. In March 2016, I requested the count of licensed beds in each zip code in Florida. The data went into the Licensed Placements by CBC & Zip Map. Last week I made the same request again, and can now compare the numbers between March and now.

The results: the number of licensed beds has grown 0.8% while the number of children in OOHC has grown 3.9%, or almost 5x as fast.

While 0.8% is probably a non-significant change, the numbers are higher and lower around the state. Losing 16 beds in Miami-Dade County is essentially no change, while gaining 60 beds in Duval County is an almost 8% expansion.

changes-in-all-placement-dec-2016

The chart below shows the changes in licensed bed numbers against the changes in OOHC placements. Non-relatives continue to make up the fastest growing placement type, which may be concerning if agencies are using this category to avoid licensing and support while also reducing board payments. I would be curious to know how many of these placements would convert to licensed placements if given an efficient way to do so. I would also be curious to know how many of these “non-relatives” would be more appropriately licensed as group homes.

On the other end, both facility placements (actual kids placed in a facility) and therapeutic beds are decreasing. The number of Child Caring Agency beds has remained almost even.

Description Mar-16 Most Recent Change
Nonrelative Placements 2498 2740 9.7%
Family Foster Placements 7162 7533 5.2%
OOHC Placements 22876 23770 3.9%
Relative Placements 10213 10532 3.1%
Family Foster Beds 10155 10294 1.4%
All Licensed Beds 16419 16546 0.8%
Child Caring Agency Beds 4409 4415 0.1%
Therapeutic Foster Beds 1122 1104 -1.6%
Facility Placements 2472 2396 -3.1%

Another way to view these numbers is by how full-to-capacity each type is. The placement data and the licensing data isn’t broken up in exactly the same way, so I’ve combined family foster beds and therapeutic beds. The result is that only two-thirds of family foster beds are actually filled, and that number has crept up since March 2016. Simultaneously, a little over half of child caring agency beds (i.e., group homes) are filled by child welfare kids.

Description Mar-16 Most Recent Capacity Change
Family Foster + Therapeutic Capacity 63.5% 66.1% 2.6%
Child Caring Agency Capacity 56.1% 54.3% -1.8%

The 33% vacancy rate is probably due to lots of factors. Some families are licensed for more children than they want to take in at any given time. Other beds cannot be filled because a child in the home has a safety plan that prevents other children from being placed there. Still other homes are temporarily not accepting children at all.  In group homes, not all kids in those homes are child welfare placements. What is important is that we’re pushing deeper into the foster home capacity and reducing the reliance on group home programs.

Below are the breakdowns for foster beds, therapeutic beds, and group home beds. You can explore the data in more detail on tableau.com. As always, if there’s something you want to see or know, just leave a message in the comments.

 

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