Congregate Care Initiative

More than 55,000 children live in a congregate care setting—about 14 percent of the total foster care population—with an average length of stay of more than eight months. Children placed in a congregate care setting are more likely to experience numerous negative outcomes, including delinquency, lower test scores, and emotional and behavioral challenges. Black children are 35 percent more likely than White children to be placed in a congregate care facility.

As a national network that works with over 40,000 families and 12,000 children in foster care on any given day, Lutheran Services in America is committed to supporting families to prevent the need for out-of-home care and achieving equitable outcomes for children and youth in the United States. The Congregate Care Initiative leverages the Lutheran Services in America Results Innovation Lab collaborative learning model, which focuses on eliminating racial disparities in the child welfare system by engaging partners and stakeholders across the child welfare sector to bring new strategies and approaches to scale. This innovative approach also leverages the frontline experience and wisdom of providers working with children and families to effect transformative change for children and families.

Funded by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Congregate Care Initiative engaged seven Lutheran Services in America network organizations to identify:

  • Disparities and innovative practices to improve outcomes for youth of color in congregate care facilities
  • Policies and practices that prevent children from entering foster care or juvenile justice facilities
  • Ways to create community-based alternatives to congregate care

Lutheran Services in America has a bold goal to achieve equitable outcomes for 20,000 children and youth by 2024.

Transforming Congregate Care

Produced by Dr. Antonio Oftelie, Lutheran Services in America board member and executive director of Leadership for a Networked World at Harvard University, the white paper “Transforming Congregate Care:  A White Paper on Promising Policy and Practice Innovation” contributes valuable insights gathered through the Congregate Care Initiative. Dr. Oftelie’s report highlights the key role that providers have in the effort to eliminate the child welfare system’s reliance on group placements, including:

  • Sustained exploration and evaluation
  • Rigorous use of analytics and evidence-based insights
  • Strengthening the capabilities and mindset of staff


We gratefully acknowledge Dr. Oftelie, Leadership for a Networked World and The Annie E. Casey Foundation for their partnership and support as well as the following Lutheran Services in America network organizations for their contributions: