A Families-First Approach to Foster Care

Recently, the New York Times posted an interesting article touting a families-first approach to foster care. In the article, which you can read here, this approach is discussed in the context of the Memphis-based organization called Youth Villages. Youth Villages, established in the mid-1980’s to operate residential treatment centers for youth involved in juvenile justice and child welfare system, began questioning their efficacy in the late 80’s and started doing research

The result of their research was that youth that received residential care turned out to not do so well after leaving. After some digging, they were connected with a group of researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina, who had recently developed a treatment model called Multisystemic Therapy (MST). The key to MST was that it focused on helping youth in the context of their families, schools and communities, as opposed to working with youth in separate, residential centers. After learning more about MST, Youth Villages changed it approach and began using MST with 12- to 17-year-olds who displayed anti-social behaviors.

What can we learn from this case study? First of all, Youth Villages shows us how other social service organizations might improve outcomes as well – by focusing on strengthening families, even when conventional wisdom in the field holds that families are the problem. Secondly, as the article points out, Youth Villages’ work shows the value of the government experimenting with social organizations which have innovative delivery models. Sometimes continuing to do things a certain way, because that’s the way they’ve been done in the past, isn’t the most beneficial for everyone involved.

Thanks to Youth Villages’ ability to examine itself and make hard, fast changes to its operating structure, we have discovered new practices for foster youth that can have long-reaching implications for a neglected population. If you read comments to the article however, you will see that not everyone agrees with this model for foster children. Please read the article and determine for yourself what you think is best for this neglected population.


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