- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) - A recent federal report finds that Georgia and South Carolina had an average or above-average number of foster children placed in group homes instead of the more preferred family-based care settings.

Officials in both states pledge that changes are in the works that could reduce the number of children placed in group homes or institutions, the Augusta Chronicle (https://bit.ly/1lbVi1l) reported.

The report was issued recently by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The study, conducted by the GAO at the request of Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and published in October, found that Georgia hovered around the national average of about 14 percent of its foster children placed into congregate care as of 2013.

A little more than 13 percent of the state’s 11,400 children in care were placed in one of 183 congregate facilities spread throughout the state, according to numbers provided earlier this month by the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services.

South Carolina fell into the 18 to 24 percent range in the GAO report, but Department of Social Services spokeswoman Marilyn Matheus said that as of May about 24 percent of children were in the care of one of the 91 facilities licensed or registered by the state.

In May, the Department of Health and Human Services released a report that suggested “children should be placed in family-like settings that are developmentally appropriate and least restrictive.”

A group home is a licensed or approved facility providing around-the-clock care for seven to 12 children, the report said. An institution, on the other hand, is operated by a public or private entity to provide treatment for “children who require separation from their own homes and group living experience.”

“Young children need family-like settings to form healthy attachments to adults, and other children need family-like settings to allow them to develop autonomy,” said Kay Brown, the GAO’s director of education, workforce and income security.

Georgia and South Carolina weren’t among the eight states analyzed in the report, but officials from both say efforts are under way to improve foster care systems.

In Georgia, officials are attempting to place children with relatives or in a foster home in the child’s community, DFCS spokeswoman Susan Boatwright said.

“DFCS Director Bobby Cagle has shared his goal of increasing the number of children placed with loving, nurturing relatives by 50 percent over the next three years,” she said, adding that the department is expected to receive $5.8 million in 2016 to recruit and retain new foster parents.

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