A new report from the Florida Foundation for Government Accountability has ranked each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia according to how well their child welfare systems performed in 2012. The report shows Maine in the middle of the pack, ranked 25th overall.
According to the study, Maine improved by 14 spots from their 2006 ranking. The study, which looked retroactively at 2006 data, showed Maine coming in at 39th in 2006. The number one state in the nation according to the study was Idaho, and the last place “state” was the District of Columbia. Massachusetts finished second to last at 50th, and Maine’s neighbor, New Hampshire, is ranked as the second best “right for kids state” by the study.
The author of the study, Tarren Bragdon, said it’s important to look at the condition of child welfare systems before tragedy strikes. “A state’s child welfare system typically operates out of the public eye unless a tragedy, often the death of a child, pulls the system from the shadows to the front page. It shouldn’t be this way,” Bragdon said.
“1,770 children in America die from abuse each year, and at least 740,000 more are abused or neglected,” Bragdon continued. “The Right For Kids Ranking shows which states are doing the best job for vulnerable kids, and serves as a guide for states to improve in the 11 key outcome areas.”
Bragdon is the former head of the Maine Heritage Policy Center and current CEO of the Foundation for Government Accountability, based in Florida. He also worked briefly for the LePage transition team when LePage was elected Governor of Maine in 2010.
The “Right for Kids” ranking measures 11 “key outcome areas.” According to the study, “each outcome area was specifically chosen as part of the assessment of states’ child welfare systems because they were either identified by the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) as being a core area of child welfare system performance or identified by relevant research as being core to a well-performing child welfare system.”
Maine fared very well in some of the key outcome areas, ranking 15th in the “forever families” category which, in part, measures, “which states quickly move children freed for adoption into forever families,” according to the study’s companion website RightforKids.org.
Other categories Maine did well in include the “here today…and tomorrow” category (16th) that measures stability in foster care, and the “reduce abuse in foster care” category (19th), which looks at which states best protect kids from being abused or neglected while in a foster home.
Maine didn’t fair so well in some other key outcome areas, including a poor showing of 45th in the “hope and homes for teens” category that looks at how well states do in moving teens in foster care to a safe, permanent home.
Maine also finished a dismal 43rd in the “return home quickly and safely” category, which measures which states “quickly return children to their biological families whenever possible and appropriate.”
The report also looked at what each spent state on their child welfare systems. In 2010, the year the data for the ranking was taken, Maine spent $122.6 million total on all child welfare services. That total means that Maine spent $45,000 per child in foster care.
By comparison, Maine’s neighbor New Hampshire, which ranked as the 2nd best “right for kids” state, spent $95.8 million total for all child welfare services. New Hampshire however, ranks in the study as a “High Ranking, High Spending” state on a per capita basis, spending $78,200 per child in foster care.
The study found that if all states performed at the level of the top ten “right for kids” states, there would be 72,000 fewer kids in foster care across the U.S. and there would be an additional 19,000 adoptions of children from foster care each year.
For the author of the report, Tarren Bragdon, it all comes down to enacting the policies that will best help states to be able to serve their child welfare population as efficiently and effectively as possible. He believes this new report will help inform those important policy decisions.
“Every state, regardless of their overall rank, can and should improve its child welfare performance,” Bragdon explained. “Now that Congress has given states the tools and flexibility, governors and state policymakers should use the 2012 Right for Kids Ranking as a handbook to guide reform.”