On Thursday, November 30, HHS released the latest data on child welfare and it now shows that there are 437,465 children in foster care as of September 30, 2016. This is the fifth straight year of increases going from 396,966 in 2012 to 437,465 in 2016. Likely the 2017 numbers are even higher. That is in sharp contrast to decreases for every year between 1999 through 2012 when foster care numbers decreased from 567,000 to the 2012 total of 397,000.

The number of adoptions are also up to 57,208 (up from 53,556) but so are the number of children waiting to be adopted now at 117,794. That is the highest number of children waiting to be adopted since 2008 when the number was 123,000. The adoption-kinship incentive fund is out of money for the awards in September 2018 just at the time that children waiting is going up. Annually funded at just under $38 million, the incentive fund (created as part of the Adoption and Safe Families Act) was always fully funded through the last decade because Congress would increase appropriations if there was a shortfall in the previous fiscal year’s awards. In recent budgets, HHS has taken the next fiscal year’s funds to make sure states were fully reimbursed from past shortfalls in bonuses. HHS has done that so much now that all funding from the FY 2018 (still to be finalized) will be used up to pay for FY 2017 incentives. Congress, instead of making up for the shortfall, has been cutting funding.

Other significant information of note in this year’s AFCARS data, the number of youth “aging-out” of care decreased to 17,394 continuing a decade of trends. The percentage of children in care zero through five inched up from 39 percent of the population to 41 percent (over two years), parental drug abuse as a reason for removal inched up to 34 percent from 32 percent in the previous year. Combined together parental drug abuse, parental alcohol abuse and child drug abuse was indicated in 42 percent of the caseload of removals. Caretaker inability to cope was in 14 percent of removals and child behavior was present in 11 percent of removals. The percentages aren’t mutually exclusive.

Examining the data shows an approximate 9000 increase in the number of children entering foster care over the year before, the clear majority of approximately 7,000 children entering care came from ages 0 through 4. There was also an increase of nearly 3000 in the 8 through 10 age group and level or decreased in ages 12 through 19. The decreased removals with youth may also be reflected in the decrease of group home and institutional placements declining from 56,000 to 53,000 (21,000 in group).