Away From Home Study Shifts National Conversation

Written by
Sonali Patel, MBA, MSW
Vice President, Strategic Partnerships & Implementation
December 15, 2022

Since the beginning of this nation’s child welfare system, there has been an overreliance on the unnecessary institutionalization of children. We know from present-day data that black youth in foster care are more likely than white youth to be placed in group homes or residential treatment facilities. 

There is no disputing that all children and youth belong and thrive in family settings. Any need for institutional care of a young person should be rare, brief, and focused on quickly and effectively addressing the concern that necessitated treatment in a facility.

Following the tragic death of Cornelius Fredrick in May 2020 at an institutional facility, TOU moved quickly to delve into the issue by undertaking a qualitative study on the lived experience of youth in congregate care. 

Think of Us partnered with the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Casey Family Programs to employ leading qualitative social research methods to shed light on the perspectives, attitudes, and experiences of young people with recent histories in institutional placements. This effort resulted in a seminal report – Away from Home – that was released in the summer of 2021 as well as a Digital Youth Museum, where youth share their experiences directly, in their own voices through powerful artworks that reflect their experiences.

Away from Home revealed shocking patterns of abuse, isolation, neglect, overmedication, and traumatization in environments that were unloving, punitive, and prison-like.

The spotlight that Away from Home put on the deep flaws of the institutions and group homes used by child welfare has sparked a series of tangible actions across the ecosystem, including:

Summer 2021: 

  • 22 states committed to ending the need for group homes. 

Fall 2021: 

  • With the support of the Annie E Casey Foundation and Casey Family Programs, Think of Us is partnering with 6 jurisdictions across the U.S. (California, Connecticut, Indiana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Allegheny County, Pennsylvania) to demonstrate effective ways to end the need for group home placements, including exploring kin and culturally-responsive placements.
  • In a powerful op-ed for The NY Times, CEO Sixto Cancel makes the case for ending the unnecessary institutionalization of youth based on the findings of Away From Home.

Summer 2022: 

  • Senators Murray (D-WA) and Wyden (D-OR) opened an investigation into allegations of abuse against the four largest for-profit corporations that operate residential treatment facilities for youth, many of which have contracts with child welfare agencies across the country.
  • TOU met with leaders of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth to explore bipartisan legislation to address abuse in congregate care facilities.
  • TOU provided insight and expertise at a congressional briefing to educate members of Congress and their staff on the experiences of foster youth in congregate care facilities.
  • In the Chronicle of Philanthropy, CEO Sixto Cancel challenges funders and partners to consider the learnings from Away From Home in their funding decisions.


Fall 2022: 

  • The U.S. Department of Justice took legal action against the state of Nevada based on an investigation that found that children spend long periods in residential treatment facilities and that the state lacked needed community-based services such as respite, therapeutic foster care, and other family-based supports. 
  • The NY Times has released an exposé on the “troubled teen industry" where youth in foster care, along with youth placed by struggling families, have endured neglect and abuse.  
  • Away From Home was cited in a report by Human Rights Watch and the ACLU on family separation due to conditions of poverty
  • The number of commitments to end the need for group homes has grown to 24 states and territories, and 8 city/county jurisdictions.

The ripple effects of Away From Home continue to move forward the work of ending the need for group home placements for foster youth. 

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