When the latest AFCARS data was released a few weeks ago, it allowed a unique opportunity to compare the last decade. The 2009 AFCARS report indicated that there were 423,773 children in foster care on the last day of the federal fiscal year. That is almost identical to the number for 2019: 423,997. An identical number for the decade. But those are the national numbers, and they do not necessarily tell us about progress or regression within 52 different jurisdictions over ten years, but none-the-less there are some changes in the national picture that should cause further analysis and possibly policy challenges.


One observation is that the number is identical. At one point, the foster care population had decreased to approximately 400,000 in 2012 (from a high of approximately 568,000 in 1999), but numbers started to increase again after 2012. Some point to the opioid epidemic that existed in some states and regions. 


The percentage of black children in foster care decreased from 30 percent in 2009 to 23 percent by 2019. A significant decrease but still a disproportionate percentage of black children when you consider 14 percent of the child population is black. Again, a state by state review will give examples of states that have a much higher and disproportionate share greater than these numbers. State by state data in 2018 indicates that at least 14 states had a percentage of black children in foster care that was twice that state’s overall population of black children. Regarding the Hispanic population, 20 percent of the child population was Hispanic in 2009 compared to 21 percent in 2019. American Indian/Alaska Native remained the same between the two time periods at 2 percent. The national data on Native American children may not be as detailed, and in several instances, jurisdictions will have a significant Native American population. 

Another significant change over ten years was the percentage of children in foster care of two or more races. In 2009 five percent of the population was of two or more races, while that increased to 8 percent in 2019.   


One of the most significant changes in the make up of the foster care population is age. In 2009 the median age of children in care was 9.7 years, compared to 7.7 percent in 2019. The population is getting younger. In 2009 children under the age of 5 (ages 0,1,2,3,4) represented 31 percent of all children in foster care. That percentage rose to 37 percent. That raises future policy questions in trying to make sure these children, if and when they leave, do not come back into care in the future, perhaps aging out of care. The population of young people exiting to emancipation (“aging-out”) was a statistic where there was seemly a decade of progress with the number of young people emancipating peaking in 2009 at 29,471 deceasing to 20,445 in 2019, although this latest number is a significant increase of nearly 3,000 youth from the 2018 total of 17,844.


In adoptions, key data included: “waiting to be adopted” increasing from 114,556 in 2009 to 122,218 in 2019. The percentage of children waiting to be adopted for white children increased from 38 percent to 44 percent in 2019, while black children waiting to be adopted decreased from 30 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2019. The number of adoptions from foster care was 57,466 in 2009 compared to 66,035 in 2019. Of the children adopted, 44 percent were white in 2009, increasing to 50 percent by 2019, while the percentage of black children adopted decreased from 25 percent to 18 percent in 2019 (Hispanic children adopted was 21 percent compared to 20 percent).   


While these are all national numbers, during this decade, a state by state review may show a very different picture with some jurisdictions realizing a shifting and smaller populations while other jurisdictions went in an opposite shift.