The Social Services Administration made a deliberate and focused shift in its practice, policy and service delivery with the July 2007 statewide implementation of the Place Matters initiative, which promotes safety, family strengthening, permanency and community-based services for children and families in the child welfare system. The proactive direction of Place Matters designed to improve the continuum of services for Maryland’s children and families, places emphasis on preventing children from coming into care when possible, ensuring that children are appropriately placed when they enter care, and shortening the length of time youth are placed in out-of-home care. The goals of the Place Matters Initiative are:
- Keep children in families first – Place more children who enter care with relatives or in resource families as appropriate and decrease the numbers of children in congregate care.
- Maintain children in their communities – Keep children at home with their families and offer more services in their communities, across all levels of care.
- Reduce reliance on out-of-home care – Provide more in-home support to help maintain children with their families.
- Minimize the length of stay – Reduce length of stay in out-of-home care and increase reunification.
- Manage with data and redirect resources – Ensure that managers have relevant data to improve decision-making, oversight, and accountability. Shift resources from the back-end to the front-end of services.
In the first five years of working within the Place Matter’s initiative, Maryland has seen significant improvement in its outcomes. Today there are fewer youth in foster care than at any time in at least 25 years, when the department started keeping electronic records. More than 13,000 children in foster care have found permanent homes through adoption, guardianship or reunification with their families. Through Place Matters we have:
- Reduced in the number of children in out-of-home care by 53%
- Decreased in the percentage of youth under age 18 in group home placements to 8%
- Increased in the percentage of family home placements for youth under 18 to 84%