Alarming AFCARS: Foster Care Up, are Terminations of Parental Rights Next?

The Children’s Bureau, a division of the federal Administration for Children and Families, announced the release of the final 2013 Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) report late last week. You can access by clicking here. A few thoughts from Youth Services Insider on numbers to watch:

Foster Care on the Rise

The number of children in foster care increased in 2013, which is the first time that has happened since 1999, the year the foster care rolls reached a staggering 567,000. The 2013 increase was about 5,000, not even half of the 12,000-youth jump between 1998 and 1999. Still, it merits attention anytime a major 13-year trend reverses itself.

This puts some unusual import on the 2014 AFCARS report. A second uptick validates the presence of a new trend; a decline in foster youths would perhaps suggest that the decade-long slope has bottomed out around 400,000.

In either case, it will also be interesting to see how this increase is discussed and used in the debate over child welfare finance reform on Capitol Hill.

Will TPR Follow?

Another AFCARS figure that declined over the decade was the number of foster youth waiting for adoption after a court initiated a termination of parental rights (TPR). There were about 132,000 such children in 2007; the number has hovered near 102,000 for the past two AFCARS reports.

That figure includes the backlog of youths whose parents’ rights were terminated years ago. The number of foster youth awaiting adoption after a TPR in the current year continues to decline, down to about 59,000 in 2013 from 71,381 in 2009.

In our humble opinion, this is the number to watch in the next few years as far as national child welfare data is concerned. This fall, President Obama signed off on legislation that reauthorizes and recalibrates the federal adoption incentives in such a way that all states will have a good shot at earning incentive payments (click here to read how).

YSI can tell you, based on the comments section of our little website here, that there is immense distrust of this process. If the same-year TPR figures make a significant increase, there will be some in the child welfare community who reasonably wonder if that is happening because states are eager to move more adoptions.

Youth Services Insider is mostly written by Chronicle Editor John Kelly. 

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