A new Kids Count report shows that ever since the state settled a federal lawsuit over the housing of foster children, the vast majority of those kids are now sheltered with families.  

More foster children in NJ are being placed with families. (Jupiterimages, ThinkStock)

The Kids Count report, conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, found that 91 percent of children in New Jersey's foster care system are living with families, as opposed to residing in institutionalized settings. Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey credits the change to the settlement of a federal lawsuit that was filed against New Jersey on behalf of the state's foster children.

"I think the settlement has guided reform. The state has made, really a sea change in bringing children home to families instead," Zalkind said.

The settlement was signed in 2006.

"I think the lawsuit helped the state get more resources. They have been much more effective about developing foster homes, which are now called, 'resource families,'" Zalkind said.

The Kids Count report shows that New Jersey was among the top 10 nationwide for providing children with foster families.

"We're right at the top. If you look at other states, according to the Casey report, we're at least in the top 10, maybe higher than that," Zalkind said.

In fact, New Jersey foster kids are faring much better than children in most other states.  A total of 57,000 nationwide lack the support of a caring family.  Zalkind says here in New Jersey, there's more good news,

"if you look at the number of children in foster care, a significant percentage are actually living with relatives," she said.

That is a big change in New Jersey from as recently as a decade ago when there were far more children living in institutional settings, some of which were out of state.

Zalkind, however, also has a warning about the future of foster care in New Jersey.  She says there has been some discussion about the New Jersey hiring a lawyer from another state who has made efforts to get that state out of a federal consent order.  And while New Jersey has made progress, it is not yet where she believes it should be. The Federal monitor reports every six months, and she says, "we still have a long way to go."