n Thursday, November 8, HHS released the 25th AFCARS Report indicating that foster care placements increased for the sixth straight year going from 436,551 in FY 2016 to 442,995 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, 2017. They are a point in time and for the entire year of 2017; there were 691,000 children who 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 increase to 442,000 represents a somewhat small increase from the previous half decade. From 2013 to 2017 the increases were 14,000, 13,000, 9,000 and 6,000 in this report. 34 states and Puerto Rico experienced an increase in foster care between 2016 and 2017 which also represents an improvement with 39 states experiencing increases between 2015 and 2016.
At the same time the number of adoptions and children waiting to be adopted increased. The number of adoptions from foster care increased to 59,430 which represent the highest number since AFCARs tracked adoptions. There are also 123,000 children waiting to be adopted which also represent an increase form 2016 when 116,000 children were waiting. That represents the biggest year to year increase in over half a decade.
Jerry Milner emphasized the positives in the number in saying:
“We are very happy that the rate of increase in the number of children in foster care is less than the prior year, and hope this is attributable to a greater focus on primary prevention of child maltreatment. Our goal is to keep families together and, when foster care placement is absolutely necessary, to reunify children back to safe and loving family conditions whenever possible. We can do this by addressing underlying behavioral and social issues through preventive and in-home services, so children do not have to enter into care and become separated from their families.”
The number of children that entered foster care in FY 2017 decreased from 272,000 to 269,000 but the number that exited foster care also decreased from 248,000 to 247,000. (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 96,700 children were removed from their home in FY 2017 because at least one parent had a drug abuse issue.
In terms of the overall foster care population, children five and younger represent 42 percent of the foster care population and that has remained similar over the last two years. Entries into foster care are also similar with 49 percent of children entering foster care at five or younger. That represents over 122,000 children with 50,000 of that total being infants under the age of one.
Under a relatively new AFCARS item, 41 percent of parents had a substance abuse problem as a reason associated for the child’s removal (36 percent drugs, 5 percent alcohol). This was the ‘primary reason” so it’s likely that some of the other categories of reasons for removal such as “neglect” could also include alcohol or drugs as a contributing factor in removal.
The number of youth that were emancipated or “aged out” of foster care remains under 20,000 at 19,945. That represents a decrease of 587 from 2016. 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 13,316 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.
Voice for Adoption Celebrates 14th Portrait Project on Capitol Hill
On Wednesday, November 14, Voice for Adoption (VFA) held their 14th annual Adoptive Family Portrait Project on Capitol Hill. The annual event in Washington DC features a number of families who have adopted from foster care. Those families then have their picture and their stories posted on display in the offices of their Member of Congress or Senators in honor of National Adoption Month.
This year the in person event featured stories from four different families from across the country and awards were presented to advocates and supporters of adoption. This year’s presentations included comments from the Isbell family, Taylor family, the Depner family and the Molnar family from the states of Pennsylvania, Utah, Oregon, and West Virginia.
This 14th annual event theme for 2018 is “Families Bring You Home.” The annual event allows the coalition of adoption agencies and advocates to focus Capitol Hill attention on the importance of adoption. The event brings together members of Congress with adoptive families in their home state. It reminds members of the importance of adoption from foster care and the 123,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted.
In addition to the event and the presentations by the families, this year’s VFA event included awards to Gail Johnson Vaughan whose past and current work promotes adoption and past work includes consulting, working for Families Now, the National Center on Adoption Permanency, and Sierra Forever Families. A second award of recognition was given to Adam Pertman, President and CEO of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency. Adam’s past work includes working for the Evan B. Donaldson Institute and contributing numerous commentaries and writings for several national news organizations and newspapers.