NACAC believes, and decades of research affirm, that children and youth fare better in families than in orphanages. Families are best suited to advocate for their children, teach them about culture, care for them when they are sick, and support them into adulthood. In families, children learn family skills, including how to parent the next generation of children. Institutions can never provide for children’s mental and social health the way that families can.
Research clearly demonstrates that institutions frequently produce adverse psychological effects that may affect people throughout their lives. In addition to the psychological harm done to children and youth, institutions are extremely expensive and create unnecessary financial burdens. Yearly care in an institution costs at least four times as much as foster care. The harmful effects of institutionalization for vulnerable children and youth do not only occur in places called orphanages. Today, orphanages may take many forms, and use many names: residential educational facilities, residential academies, boarding schools, and children’s homes. Regardless of the name, NACAC is opposed to the placement of foster children and youth in any congregate care facility that limits family involvement, isolates children and youth from their communities, does not focus on family preservation and permanency planning goals, and does not provide appropriate treatment. Long-term custodial care in orphanages for poor or abused children and youth is too costly, both in human and financial terms.
NACAC believes that a child or youth in foster care should only be placed in an institutional setting when such a placement will meet a specific need for intensive residential treatment services that cannot be provided in a family setting. Residential treatment should engage parents or a person closely connected to the child or youth, plan for post-treatment support, be time-limited, and have a goal of preparing the child or youth to return to a family.
Tax dollars need to be directed to programs that find permanence for children and youth, either through effective family preservation or through adoption or other permanent family based solutions. NACAC acknowledges that the foster care system needs reform and improvement. While there is room for additional creative solutions, NACAC believes there is a need for commitment to improving the system and implementing comprehensive best practices. NACAC strongly recommends that child welfare policy makers look to birth, foster, and adoptive families to meet the needs of vulnerable children and youth. Child welfare practice should be guided by the principle that children and youth do best in families.