In March the Nebraska Foster Care Review Office (FCRO) issued their quarterly report that took an up-close look at children that re-enter foster care. In that closer look at the children and youth in foster care they found a much more significant number of children in foster care who had been in foster care at least once before.

According to the FCRO nearly one in four children in their current caseload had re-enter foster care at least once. They studied those children that entered care in 2017 and the 534 of the 2,479 children that entered care who were re-entries. Of the 534 entries they determined that the median days from the last exit to the next re-entry was 19 months.

The national Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) only measure re-entries for 12 months after the exit and so it does not capture these re-entries. And in fact the median and the measure for the CFSR is around 8 percent as far as re-entries into foster care. So this really isn’t an accurate measure of re-entries. The proposed AFCARS (now potentially on hold) would provide more long-term longitudinal lifetime data not now captured.

The Nebraska review also determined that the reason for re-entry was similar to the reason for removal in the most recent re-entry: 76 percent removed for neglect the last time were removed for neglect the next time; 75 percent removed due to parental substance abuse were removed for parental substance abuse the next time and 57 percent removed due to domestic violence in the home were removed due to domestic violence the next use.

Other notes of interest include what appears to be seasonal impact on the foster care populations. November sees a decrease in the population likely because holidays and November is National Adoption Month. Likewise December is lower due to pre-holiday reunions and the start of school in September and October result in increased entries into foster cares. Youth involved in probation or juvenile justice include a much higher number of boys than girls and a disproportionate share of Black and Native youth.

Studying the re-entries, 64 percent had entered foster care for the first time between the ages of zero through five. The current age for children re-entering (of the 534) 41 percent were 13 through 18. Of these re-entries 72 percent were entering for the second time 20 percent the third time and 5 percent for the fourth time.

The Nebraska review is likely not dissimilar to what other states are experiencing but it is not examined at the national level. Over the course of the past two decades, efforts to reduce the foster care numbers have focused little attention on children who re-enter care. As a result there is little information and likely even less information and practices that focus on evidence-based programs and services that could reduce re-entries into foster care.

The Family First Act could offer an avenue to support post-reunification services but it likely needs to be developed in term of what is the best way to strengthen these families. For those focused on reducing foster care caseloads, it may be time to address the need for better effort at supporting the 51 percent of children and their families that exit care foster care each year to reunify. The report can be read here at the Nebraska Foster Care Review Office Quarterly Report