With the latest AFCARS data official, there are now clear indications that foster care numbers are trending upward.  A third consecutive increase in foster care to 427,910 children in care represents an eight percent increase since 2012.  Likely these numbers will be even higher when the 2016 numbers are reported next year. The numbers are significantly lower than ten years ago when caseloads stood at 505,000 but it is now clear that another drug use explosion (heroin-opioids, this time) is again impacting on child abuse, child neglect and foster care.

Foster care placement had been on a steady downward trend since the turn-of-the-century when the number of children in foster care was over 560,000. That continued to trend downward for most of the past decade and a half with foster care numbers decreasing to their all-time low of 397,301.  The official data over the past four years shows a consistent pattern of increases starting in 2012 with foster care increasing in 2013 to 401,000 to 414,020 in 2014 to 427,910 in 2015. The data which always lags a year behind, does not include the most recent information for 2016 but that too is likely to show an increase in the continued impact of the substance use epidemic.

In a somewhat more positive side, adoptions from foster care in 2015 increased by 3000, the biggest single year increase in four years. In 2015, 53,549 children were adopted from foster care the highest number sense 2009. But the increase in adoptions are likely also a consequence of the increased numbers of children entering foster care. There has been a steady increase in the number of children considered waiting to be adopted (parental rights have been terminated and/or the child’s case plan is adoption).  In 2015, there were 111,820 children waiting to be adopted. That is the highest number of children waiting to be adopted since 2009 when there were 113,000 children in that category.

The AFCARS report includes a new item.  The reasons for removal.  Some cases involve several reasons for removal so the data overlaps but the number one reason for removal of children in 2015 was neglect at 61 percent, followed by drug abuse by the parent at 32 percent. The 32 percent figure in terms of parental drug abuse is consistent with data earlier reported here in the state of Massachusetts.  New data reporting in that state indicated that substance abuse was the number reason for removal at 30 percent, followed by domestic violence at 21 percent and 19 percent with mental health. HHS also stated that nearly three quarters (71 percent) of states reported an increase in the numbers of children entering foster care from 2014 to 2015 with five states, Florida, Indiana, Georgia, Arizona, and Minnesota having the biggest increase.  They also highlight these states had the largest increases between 2013 and 2014.

In publishing the information HHS released a statement and press release that said,

“…interviewed child welfare directors in states experiencing the highest increase in foster care numbers, and state officials informed ACYF what the data suggest: a rise in parental substance use is likely a major factor driving up the number of children in foster homes. Citing opioid and methamphetamine use as the most debilitating and prevalent substances used, some state officials expressed concern that the problem of substance use is straining their child welfare agencies.  

State child welfare directors also emphasized that recent trends in substance abuse are sometimes affecting entire families and neighborhoods, making a child’s placement with relatives an unviable option. Increased collaboration across service providers and community leaders will be necessary to address this rising challenge.”

A  new Child Trends survey of state child welfare spending shows a slight decrease in funding between 2012 to 2014 with a slightly bigger decrease in federal spending, the impact of the next presidential administration will be significant since some of the sources of federal funding, IV-E, TANF, SSBG and Medicaid will all face some review.

The federal spending totaled $12.8 billion in combine Title IV-E ($6.8 billion), TANF ($2.8 billion), SSBG ($1.3 billion), Medicaid (spent through the child welfare agency–$ 886 million), Title IV-B ($557 million) and a few smaller sources. All categories except Title IV-E foster care-adoption assistance decreased.  Total state and local spending was $16.2 billion.