The recently released AFCARS, Report Number 27, indicates that foster care numbers decreased in FY 2019. The report lists 423,997 children in foster care at the end of the federal fiscal year 2019 (September 30, 2019) compared to 435,031 for the same point in 2018. The report may be adjusted in the next few months, but the decrease of 11,034 is more significant than the previous year when placement decrease by 1,625 in 2017 to 2018. Over the past ten years, the single biggest change between years was 2008 to 2009 when foster care placements decreased by an astounding 43,377 in one year. FY 2009 also coincided with the recession’s highest point (October 1, 2008, to September 30, 2009).

The report shows a decrease in the number of children that entered foster care in 2019, falling to 251,359 from 262,791 in 2018 and a decline in the number of children that exited care going down to 248,669 last year from 251,161 compared to the year before. The number of children in foster care waiting to be adopted (either parental rights have been terminated or they have a plan of adoption) decreased to 122,216 from 125,285 while those waiting to be adopted with whom parental rights have been terminated decreased by 145 and was set at 71,335 children. The number of children adopted from foster care was 66,035, up from 2018, when 62,997 children were adopted from foster care. In terms of case plans for children currently in foster care, 55 percent had a plan of reunification with their family, 3 percent had a plan to live with another relative, 28 percent had a plan of adoption, 4 percent a guardianship placement while 2 percent had a case plan of long term foster care and 4 percent emancipation.

The AFCARS report indicates that in regard to a foster child’s most recent placement setting, 46 percent of children are in foster family homes. An additional 32 percent are in relative foster care, five percent are in trial home visits, and four percent are in pre-adoptive homes. The remaining 13 percent of the placements have garnered the most debate in Washington in recent years. Six percent (25,832) of children and youth are in an institution while four percent are in group homes (17,991), two percent (7,924) are in supervised independent living placements, and another one percent (4,115) are on runaway status. Compared to a decade ago (2010), the group home percentage has decreased by over 5,000 to 17,991, and the percentage of children in an institution has reduced from 9 percent to 6 percent and decreased by approximately 11,000 fewer children in institutional settings for a total of 25,832. The other decrease is in runaway status with 2010 data indicating that 2 percent were runaways totaling over 6,500 children down to one percent and 4,115 children in the latest year.  This report is the last snapshot of child welfare placements before the coronavirus began to have an impact on actions and families in late March 2020.