A new survey by the Chronical of Social Change indicates that the number of foster family homes may be declining while the number of relative homes is up. According to the second such yearly survey the publication found that at least 15 states lost foster homes between 2017 to 2018 with five states experiencing a 20 percent decline in one year. Georgia led that loss, according to the survey with a decline of 37 percent followed by Minnesota at 32 percent. Earlier this year a report by the state of Oregon highlighted the difficulties in maintaining foster care capacity:

“Due to DHS staff turnover and staff shortages, some foster families have been asked to take on DHS staff duties with limited support and guidance, which may contribute to career foster families leaving the system. Career foster families have also reported being asked to take more children than they can accommodate, or to take children on an emergency basis that turns into weeks and months. Foster families have taken on tasks normally assigned to caseworkers, such as arranging meetings with birth parents and transporting both foster children and their birth parents to appointments. The burdens on existing foster parents hurt recruitment as well, because they are the primary recruiters for new foster parents.”

The Chronical for Social Change survey also noted that states increased their use of relative care with forty-four states increasing relative care from 2012 to 2016. According to the survey in 23 states more than half of all relative caregiver’s receive no assistance. Relative care can be difficult to completely track through child welfare since states use Title IV-E foster care, Title IV-E subsidized guardianships and TANF-funded “child-only” grants to spread the use of relative care. Some TANF families may not be tracked by child welfare agencies.

In terms of placement options and supply for child welfare agencies, the Oregon report also highlight a little noticed challenge highlighting the importance of foster care homes. Relative care is not necessarily a one on one replacement for foster care since relative care is for families caring for their own children whereas a family foster home may have the capacity to care for a number of children including short term placements. The Oregon study found “career foster homes” declined by 55% from 2011 to 2016, from 3,800 homes to 1,727 homes. Over the same time period, relative homes increased by 158% from 862 homes to 2,227 homes. But between 2012 and 2016 the state’s placement capacity decreased from approximately 4200 through 3900.

The Chronical survey said that using 2018 data from every state excluding Maine, there were a projected a total of 439,020 youth in foster care this year. That is more than the 2016 total calculated by the federal Children’s Bureau through its Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). But this estimate represents 3,980 fewer children than The Chronicle’s 2017 projection of 443,000 children in care.

The new AFCARS report has not been published but 2016 data released last year indicated there were 437,233 children in care at the end of federal fiscal year 2016.