On Thursday, October 24, 2019 HHS released the 26th AFCARS Report indicating 3,788 fewer children in foster care in FY 2018 (437,283) from the 441,071 in FY 2017.

The AFCARS reports are based on the number of children in the system as of the last day of the federal fiscal year, which is September 30, in this case, September 30, 2018. They are a point in time, and for the entire year of 2018, 687,345 children spent at least part of the year in care. The September 30 date allows a consistent comparison from year to year. Over the course of a year, states will experience different numbers with foster care placements and child abuse complaints generally increasing at the start of the school year in the fall and foster care number decreasing during the year-end holidays as there are more reunifications—at least temporarily.

The decrease to 437,000 represents the first time since 2011 the number of children in foster care decreased. At the same time, the number of adoptions and children waiting to be adopted increased for the fourth year in a row. The number of adoptions from foster care increased to 63,123, which represents the highest number since AFCARs tracked adoptions. There are also 125,000 children waiting to be adopted, which also represents an increase from 2017 when 123,000 children were waiting.

Jerry Milner remarked on the decrease in the number and stated:

“The current decrease in the number of kids entering care, and those in care, is promising. As our agency funds prevention projects we hope to see a continued indication that child welfare systems are relying less on foster care and serving more children and families in their home and communities.”

The number of children that entered foster care in FY 2018 decreased from 270,000 to 263,000, while the number that exited foster care increased from 246,000 to 250,000. (Entries and exits cannot be combined to come up with a final number since some children could enter or exit more than once in a fiscal year and be counted twice). According to HHS, slightly more than 94, 300 children were removed from their homes in FY 2018 because at least one parent had a drug abuse issue.

In terms of the overall foster care population, children five and younger represent 58 percent of the foster care population. Entries into foster care indicate that 50 percent of children entering foster care at five or younger. That represents over 129,000 children, with 49,000 of that total being infants under the age of one.

The number of youth that were emancipated or “aged out” of foster care steadily declined from 2017 at 19,945 to 17,844 in 2018. This continues a trend of decreases from more than ten years ago when nearly 30,000 youth aged-out of foster care. There are now 12,450 youth ages 18, 19, and 20 in foster care, some of whom may have aged out of care in past years before states had the option to extend Title IV-E foster care to age 21.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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