No place for the children: A therapeutic group home closes while foster children sleep in hotels and offices

In my last post, I wrote about Washington State’s critical shortage of foster parents, which is rRuthDykemanCenteresulting in children staying in offices, hotels, and by-the-night foster homes. One of my suggestions was to reinvest in quality group care settings. Unfortunately, the state (along with most of the country) is moving in the opposite direction.

KUOW, Seattle’s public radio station, recently  reported on the closure of a group home that provided therapeutic care to  foster children with “severe behavioral problems and emotional needs.” At the Ruth Dykeman Children’s Center in Burien, Washington 15 children lived in lakeside cottages supervised by staff members, with nurses and psychologists on call.

Unfortunately, foster care ideology has changed and now any family setting seems to be considered better than any  group  setting, regardless of the needs of the child and the quality of the placement. The fact that group settings are more expensive than foster family homes might have something to do with this new bias.

Unfortunately, the type of children that were housed at Dykeman don’t do well in family foster care. Children with behavioral problems and emotional needs tend to bounce from one foster home to another, their behavioral problems worsening with each move.

Nevertheless, group homes have been shuttered around the country. In Washington  state, according to Investigate West, “stagnant reimbursement rates have forced many facilities that contract with the state to reduce capacity or shutter altogether.”

The CEO of Navos, the mental health nonprofit running the Dykeman home, told KUOW that ending the contract for foster care was a source of great anguish to the leadership. But it was not financially sustainable. The nonprofit had been paying more than half the cost of running the home for years.

The Dykeman Center is not closing, but it is now off-limits for foster kids. It will now serve long-term inpatient psychiatric care, which is reimbursed at two to three times the rate, according to KUOW.

Now, the fragile children from the Dykeman Center will be competing with less troubled but still vulnerable foster youth for the dwindling supply of foster homes. Some may bounce from home to home, perhaps spending nights in hotels or pay-by-the-night foster homes where they have to be dropped off late in the evening and picked up early in the morning. Some have already been sent out of state, according to KUOW.

It is hard to conceive of a reality where this makes sense. But in the looking-glass world of foster care, ideology and money-saving work together to trump common sense and common humanity.

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