The number of youth in foster care began to decline in earnest last year, according to federal child welfare data released this week, which also found that reunifications have declined and the number of children adopted from foster care continues to reach record levels.
There were 423,997 children in care on September 30 of 2019, according to the annual report of the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, or AFCARS. That is a nearly 3% decrease from 2017, when the total reached a recent peak of 436,656.
The trend is consistent with what was projected last year by The Imprint in our “Who Cares” data project, which collects state information on youth in care and the number of caregivers available to take them in. The Imprint’s 2020 projection will be available in early fall.
There were 66,035 children adopted from foster care in 2019, about 3,000 more than the record number set in 2018. Meanwhile, the number of children awaiting adoption and those whose parents rights had been terminated both slightly declined.
“These incredible numbers show the hard work child welfare agencies, nonprofit organizations, faith-based entities and families do for America’s children and youth,” said Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary of the Administration for Children and Families, in a statement about the report. “More than 120,000 youth are currently awaiting adoption, and we remain committed to supporting and partnering with local, state and federal agencies to help youth explore permanency options.”
But while adoptions have increased, the number of children being reunited with parents from foster care is concerning. In 2017, the number of kids exiting care to reunification dipped below 50% for the first time in recorded history – in 2019, it fell to 47%.
After several years of decline, the number of youth who aged out of foster care jumped back up above 20,000, up from 17,844 in 2018.
Mississippi, Indiana, Louisiana, New Jersey and Delaware all saw decreases of 10% or higher in their foster care totals. Indiana had the largest absolute drop, declining from 18,560 to 16,307.
Two New England states, Rhode Island and Maine, saw increases of 10% or greater.
The Children’s Bureau adjusted down totals from several recent years because the numbers being reported by Puerto Rico came into question. The territory has been asked to resubmit data going back to at least 2014, and is currently excluded from the total.