Right-Sizing Congregate Care

Right-Sizing Congregate Care with KVC Health Systems


In many states, when youth are removed from their homes for safety and enter foster care, a high percentage are placed into residential group homes, known as congregate care. These homes have multiple beds to a room and house many children at a time with 24-hour supervision. There are more than 400,000 children and teens in foster care and 55,000 of those youth live in congregate care, with the remainder living with relatives or foster parents.

KVC started as a group home for adolescent boys in 1970. In 1980, Wayne Sims joined KVC as President and CEO, and saw that residential group home care was not the ideal living situation for most children. Children grow best in families and need the personalized attention that comes with living in a family-like setting. Sims’ vision was to create a broad community-based continuum of care to help children and families wherever they were, whatever their needs.

Watch this video to learn why right-sizing congregate care and caring for children family settings is best.

Congregate Care

Children in foster care are placed in congregate care for many reasons, but one reason is that there aren’t enough foster homes. Group homes can be restrictive, lack parental supports and can have other harmful effects like negatively impacting the child’s school performance, increasing their likelihood to drop out of school and increasing their risk for further physical abuse.

Children Grow Best in Families

With the belief that “Children grow best in families,” KVC has helped the state of Kansas recruit and train thousands of relatives and foster families in order to support children in the context of a close-knit family. When we started providing foster care case management services in Kansas in 1996, 30% of children in foster care were in congregate care placements. Today the national average is 14%, yet KVC’s rate is far better than the national average; about 6.5% of children KVC serves in Kansas live in congregate care, and it has been as low as 4%. Of those few children that do live in a congregate/residential care setting, most are there for the specific purpose of receiving acute psychiatric treatment.

Kids need to live in families not only for one-on-one attention but also to learn what a healthy family is like so they become strong moms and dads themselves someday and pass that on to the next generation.

Over the years, our foster family care and in-home therapy services have grown significantly. We believe children grow best in families, and there is significant research to support this:

  • Youth placed in congregate care are less likely to find permanent homes than those who live in family settings.
  • Youth who live in institutional settings are at greater risk of developing physical, emotional and behavioral problems.
  • Current law requires that children be placed in the least restrictive setting possible while maintaining the child’s safety and health.
  • Congregate placements cost child welfare systems three to five times the amount of family-based placements, and often result in poorer outcomes.

Right-sizing congregate care is necessary to help children find permanent homes faster and free up funds to support the development of needed community-based services. KVC has recognized the need to provide residential services as a treatment type, not as a living situation for children. As a result, Kansas was the first state to successfully exit a Children’s Rights Settlement Agreement by showing significant, measurable improvement in over 100 identified areas.

As a member of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Provider Exchange, KVC travels across the U.S. and around the world sharing how to successfully move from congregate care to community-based care of children. Learn more about our training and consulting here.

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