Count of foster kids at 15-year low
A 43% drop in the last five years is attributed to a new system for assessing risk factors
There are 1,700 Hawaii children living in foster homes on an average day, the lowest number since 1993.
The number of children in foster care decreased by 43 percent in the past five years, a change linked to a new system used by child welfare social workers to assess risk factors in a family's home.
Hawaii has one of the lowest rates of recurring child abuse and neglect in the country. Some 2.2 percent of children returned to their homes in 2007 were subjected again to abuse, down from 6 percent in 2003, according to a state Department of Human Services release. The national rate is 6.1 percent.
Human Services Director Lillian Koller also credited an increased investment in community poverty prevention programs for the improvement. The state puts some of its annual federal block grants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families into programs that help parents find and retain employment and help young people succeed in school and avoid drug abuse, crime and teen pregnancy.
Koller said social workers previously used a "one size fits all" evaluation system and removed children from their biological families at a rate four times the national average. Since 2005 they have used the Web-based Differential Response System to weigh various risk factors in a home. It was developed with the National Resource Center for Child Protective Services in New Mexico, and implemented with the help of faculty and students in the information technology program at Maui Community College.
"The children of Hawaii now have better opportunities to remain in their families with the assistance of a social service system that believes, whenever possible, children should be raised in their own families," said Linda Santos, president of Foster Family Programs of Hawaii, one of the nonprofit organizations working with the state agency. "This family-centered approach to child welfare is culturally appropriate in Hawaii and will have a positive effect on future generations."