The finding shows that child welfare agencies must work harder to address underlying family problems that result in abuse and neglect before allowing foster children to reunite with their birth families, said Joan Benso.
"One of the primary reasons a child is removed from the home is substance abuse," Benso said. "If the parent doesn't get effective substance abuse services, the notion that you're going to successfully reunite (the parent with the child) is pretty slim."
About 20,000 children are in foster care at any given time, and they typically stay there for 16 months, according to the report. The largest share, 47 percent, live in foster homes with nonrelatives. A quarter live in institutions and group homes, and 22 percent have been placed with relatives.
But the longer children remain in foster care, the less likely they are to find stable homes. More than 30 percent of all children who spend one to two years in foster care live with three or more different families, and 94 percent of all children who spend more than two years in foster care experience the same fate.
"Think about what happens in the life of a school-age child," Benso said. "They transfer schools. ... They miss a lot of school, so they have a real problem with educational attainment. They have a very hard time making connections."
A Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman did not immediately return a telephone message Wednesday seeking comment on the report.
Teenagers account for 46 percent of the state's foster children. Thirty percent are children ages 6-12, and 24 percent are under 6 years old.
The report also notes that several counties exceed the statewide rate of placing foster children with relatives, including Allegheny County at 30 percent, Delaware County at 26 percent, Erie County at 37 percent and Philadelphia at 25 percent.
The organization is releasing the report as part of a project to improve the state's child welfare system.
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