Washington state foster youth spent the night in hotels because of a lack of available placements in foster homes more than 1,000 times over the last year, according to a report from an independent state oversight office.
The Office of the Family and Children’s Ombudsman (OFCO) found that from September 1, 2017, to August 31, 2018, the state’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) granted 1,090 “placement exceptions,” up from 120 in 2015. Of those placement exceptions, 1,075 involved children spending the night in hotels supervised by caseworkers, and in 15 cases foster children spent the night in DCFS offices or other irregular locations.
According to the report released last month, these placements occurred among a small subsection of the state’s foster youth – just 195 foster youth, mostly from two regions of the state. The children involved in these placement exceptions were older on average than other Washington foster children living in out-of-home placements, more likely to be children of color and frequently faced a high level of behavioral challenges and mental health needs, according to the report.
In many cases, the lack of appropriate placements was cited as a reason for hotel stays, including the inability to locate a relative caregiver or a licensed foster home that would be equipped to meet the behavioral needs of the children.
“The ongoing practice of placing children in hotels and state offices highlights a shortage of foster homes and therapeutic placements, perhaps the single greatest challenge facing DCYF,” the report reads.
The report also noted that the state now has fewer placements that offer intensive wraparound services after rising costs have prompted some providers to stop offering intensive services to foster youth in recent years.
After reviewing the data on hotel stays, OFCO offered the following recommendations:
- Provide an adequate supply and range of residential placement options to meet the needs of all children in state care.
- Provide funding for software applications to streamline the foster care licensing process.
- Expand programs that support foster and kinship families and prevent placement disruptions.
- Ensure that children in state care receive appropriate mental health services.
- Recruit, train and compensate “professional therapeutic foster parents.”
- Ensure all staff who supervise children overnight are adequately trained.
- Provide appropriate structured programs and activities.
In its budget request for next fiscal year, the state Department of Children, Youth and Families has asked for $8.7 million to “improve the placement crisis.” The funds would “increase placement stability for children, allow them to be placed in closer proximity to their parents and communities, and decrease the use of costly placements that negatively impact well-being such as hotel stays and night-to-night foster care.”
You can read the OFCO report here.