Compared to just five years ago, the number of minors placed in foster care in the Garden State is down by more than 2,700.
The New Jersey Department of Children and Families attributes the decline to a change in culture that places more emphasis on strengthening families following reports of abuse or neglect, rather than punishing them.
“Returning would be, so are you leaving children in harm’s way? And that just hasn’t been the case at all,” said Clinton Page, deputy director of the Division of Child Protection and Permanence. from DCF, New Jersey 101.5.
In 2017, more than 5,900 children statewide, ages 0-17, were in foster care. That tally reached 13,000 in 2003. As of July 18 of that year, the total was just over 3,150.
“We have emphasized with staff that when you think about safety interventions and removal of children, this should absolutely be the last resort,” Page said.
Instead, he said, staff who respond to reports of abuse or neglect aim to “team up” with families, have honest conversations about the impact of the actions of parents on their children and perhaps going so far as to offer daily check-ups in hopes of refocusing the family as a unit.
“We have a lot of therapeutic supports for families that we put in place early on, to help prevent dismissals,” Page said.
The DCF regularly tracks critical incidents among children, as well as deaths and near-fatalities, and “the numbers haven’t increased because of our efforts,” Page said.
The drop in the number of children placed can also be attributed to a prioritization of family care when out-of-home placement is required. When placed with a relative, family friend or close contact, the child is less likely to move through the system and more likely to be reunited with their original family.
In 2021, for the first time ever, more children in New Jersey were placed with relatives than in other settings. More than 2,000 children were released from DCF custody last year. Of this total, 122 have “aged” in order to live independently.
Resource houses needed
Thanks to a drop in the number of children requiring placement, New Jersey currently has a strong list of routine adoptive parents.
But there is a need for resource families who can meet the unique needs of certain populations:
Go to this DCF page if you want to become a resource family.
Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]
Click here to contact an editor about a comment or correction for this story.