New annual data from HHS indicates that the number of children in foster care increased by more than 14,000 children in federal fiscal year 2014. According to the annual HHS report, the number of children in foster care increased to 415,129 compared to 400,989 in 2013.

The totals represent the number of children in out-of-home care (foster care) on the last day of the federal fiscal year (September 30, 2014). It is the highest number of children in foster care since 2009.   The increase is the second consecutive annual increase with last year’s (2013) total of nearly 401,000 representing an increase of 4,000 children in care over the previous year. The 2014 to 2013 increase is also the highest year to year increase in more than a decade.

The data released through AFCARS Report # 22 indicate that the number of children leaving foster care decreased by 2,162 compared to 2013 and the number of children entering foster care increased by 9,666. The two numbers are keys to understanding the overall increase to 415,000. The biggest increase in entries seemed to come from the zero to three population which increased by approximately 6400 children in care.

The number of children adopted from foster care at 50, 608 is also the lowest in a decade and approximately 1500 less than the previous year. The nearly 108,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted is also the highest since 2010.

It is unclear what is driving the increase and where it is coming from between the fifty states –AFCARS preliminary numbers do not break down by state—but it is a safe assumption that at least part of the increase is a result of the prescription drug/heroine substance use increases seen in certain parts of the U.S. Some states (see related Montana story) have experienced dramatic increases in drug use. It is especially prevalent in areas such as the Northeast.

A number of states are also struggling with a range of overall budget problems which does not bode well for state child welfare budgets which have to compete with a number of other more popular or visible budget priorities such as education, long term care, pensions and overall tax revenue.

The state budget challenge has not been assisted by recent reductions in federal child welfare programs with funding sources such as Title IV-B Child Welfare Services (CWS), Title IV-B Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF), the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) and the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) all being reduced by recent sequestration cuts with some of those cuts being made permanent through appropriations of 2014 and 2015 (CWS, PSSF and CAPTA).