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Indiana has fewer kids in foster care, but racial disparities remain

Indiana Youth Institute President and CEO Tami Silverman said there could be multiple reasons why the number of youth in foster care has dipped.
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Indiana Youth Institute President and CEO Tami Silverman said there could be multiple reasons why the number of youth in foster care has dipped.

The number of kids in Indiana foster care decreased in recent years, according to a new report from the Indiana Youth Institute, which shows a 20 percent drop in the number of children in the system between 2018 and 2020.

After increasing at one of the highest rates in the country between 2012 and 2018, the number of kids in foster care in Indiana decreased from more than 34,200 in 2018 to roughly 26,900 in 2020.

Indiana Youth Institute President and CEO Tami Silverman said there could be multiple reasons the number has dipped. For example, schools closed for in-person learning in spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and because of that it’s possible fewer children were identified as needing support.

Also, in 2018, Gov. Eric Holcomb requested an independent audit of the Department of Children Services. And that led to a 2019 law to provide more support of in-home placement for children, efforts to address the turnover rate for family case managers and other changes.

Silverman also points to passage of the 2018 Federal Family First Prevention Services Act, which provided more funding toward mental health services, substance abuse support and other services.

“We're hopeful that perhaps our policies have also changed in such that we're really screening and engaging with the kids that need it the most,” Silverman said. “And when it's really a case of perhaps neglect – and most of the cases that are referred to the foster care system are due to neglect, not abuse – how do we support those families in providing those services or stabilizing factors that those kids may need?”

Despite fewer children in foster care, racial disparities persist, and child advocates remain concerned about how social workers are recommending children be placed in the system.

In 2020, 18 percent of Hoosier children in foster care were Black, even though Black kids only make up about 11 percent of the state’s population. That’s compared to almost 72 percent of kids in foster care who are White, while White children make up nearly 75 percent of the population.

“There may be bias in our screening that we're looking at,” Silverman said. “And that's one of our recommendations is to make sure that we're paying attention to equity and disparity because there is a [disproportionate] number of kids who are screened into the system that are Black. And we need to be making sure that we're paying attention to, are our caseworkers understanding their implicit bias?”

To help address the racial disparities, Indiana DCS has formed a Racial Justice, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Council, which uses diversity, equity and inclusion practices to reshape things like hiring, culture, services, training and policies. The Indiana Youth Institute recommends incorporating blind case reviews by removing identifying demographic information.

Some of the recommendations in the report include extending foster care services for older youth, such as increasing telehealth and other health care options. Advocates also believe it would be beneficial to provide services to support workforce development, academic advising and career coaching, in addition to providing financial literacy skills and housing support.

The Indiana Youth Institute also wants to make sure foster care youth are being listened to when implementing new policies and programs, and have a voice in policy making.

According to the report, Indiana has consistently ranked among the top five states for foster care placement — higher than neighboring states, and the national average with 10 youth placed per 1,000 children. Nationally, six out of 1,000 children are in foster care.

Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at egabriel@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.

Copyright 2022 WFYI Public Radio. To see more, visit WFYI Public Radio.

Elizabeth Gabriel is KLCC Public Radio Foundation Reporting Fellow. She does stories on diversity, equity and inclusion.