PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) is asking for help after new data shows how teens in foster care are being housed.
Data released on Wednesday at a briefing pointed to the need for more foster families and for a potential change in the age when kids age out of the system.
“We need families. I cant keep saying that enough. Anybody who will listen, we need families,” DCYF Director Trista Piccola said.
Piccola says a Rhode Island Kids Count Data release said too many teens are being kept in congregate care settings such as group homes and shelters, when they really need to be with a foster family.
“We also know that when we allow this to happen, there are long term detrimental effects on their well being,” Piccola said.
According to the data, 171 children assessed by DCYF this year were deemed appropriate for foster care, but were instead placed into group homes. Out of those 171 kids, the majority were teenagers.
“These kids can and should be living with a family. We place them into these types of settings because we don’t have enough families,” Piccola said.
While Piccola says they’re now doing more to recruit and support foster families, the data shows there are fewer than 270 currently providing care for teens statewide, with more than 500 teens out of home care.
Blanca Merced, a member of the Voice Youth Leadership Board, was one of those kids, who entered a group home as a teen.
She urged those gathered at Wednesday’s meeting to listen to the young people in the system.
“Had my voice been heard about me not wanting to go home in those last couple of weeks before I was sent home, I wouldn’t have ended up homeless at 18,” Merced said.
DCYF is now working to recruit, develop and support foster families, especially for adolescents.
Advocates at Wednesday’s meeting say they’re now pushing to raise the age children in DCYF age out of the foster care system from 18 to 21.
In Rhode Island it was 21 until 2007, when the laws were changed.