Notes on Federal Foster Care Report: Permanency Delayed, State Surges, And More

 As The Imprint reported yesterday, this year’s federal report on foster care shows the number of youth in care has increased for a fifth consecutive year. Click here for our initial coverage of the report, which was produced through the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS).

Youth Services Insider has sifted through the report and its state-by-state breakouts a bit. Following are some notes on things that jumped from this year’s AFCARS report, which covers 2017.

Permanency Drag

There are a couple indicators that suggest a worrisome trend on the speed with which youth in foster care are moved to permanency. The most basic indicator of this is that exits from foster care went up in 2015 and 2016, and this year the number of youth leaving care declined.

But three more specific factors jumped out on this front to Youth Services Insider.

First is the “median time in care” for foster youth. Twenty years ago, the median stay was 20.5 months. By 2015, that number had plummeted to 12.6 months. The median has ticked up for a second year in a row, now at 12.9 months.

Second is the percentage of youth who exit to family reunification in 2017, less than half of youth who exited foster care went back with their parents. The percentage dropped from 51 percent in 2016 (that has been the proportion for several years now) down to 49 percent this year.

Third are the data points that lead up to adoptions from foster care. The number of finalized adoptions continue to increase – up 14 percent since 2012 and nearly reaching 60,000 in 2017 –and of course adoption is one of several permanency options. But the increase in adoptions has been significantly outpaced by the increase in kids being slated for that outcome.

Since 2012, the number of youth deemed to be “waiting for adoption” is up 23 percent, from 100,379 to 123,437. And the percent of children in foster care whose parents’ rights have been terminated has also jumped in that time frame, up 20 percent.

The numbers on both of those metrics increased by 6 percent last year alone.

Kansas stands out as a state where the adoption process appears to be problematic. The number of children whose parents’ rights were terminated went up 13 percent between 2016 and 2017, and the number of finalized adoptions dropped by 23 percent in the same time frame.

No Single Story

The national total of youth in care continues to rise, but it’s always important to remember that there is no national foster care system (well, at least not for children born here).

There are 18 states where the number of foster youth was within 100, either way, of last year’s report. Another eight states saw a decrease of 100 youth or more in 2017. So more than half of the states in the country either stayed pretty level, or saw at least a somewhat substantial decrease.

The national narrative of increasing foster youth is definitely propelled by a smaller set of states that continue to see their totals rise. To that end…

Worse, Getting “Worser”

There are five states where the number of youth in care has grown by more than 50 percent since 2012. And all five of those states saw a significant increase between 2016 and 2017:


Since 2012: 99%

Since 2016: 14%

New Hampshire

Since 2012: 93%

Since 2016: 22%


Since 2012: 87%

Since 2016: 5%


Since 2012: 81%

Since 2016: 10%


Since 2012: 71%

Since 2016: 6%

New Hampshire saw by far the greatest percentage increase of any state this year. Interestingly its neighbor to the east, Vermont, saw a 4 percent decrease this year – the state’s foster care total shot up 36 percent between 2012 and 2015, and has decreased steadily since then.

One state that looks like it might be seeing a much-needed downward shift in foster care totals is Arizona. The state saw its number of foster youth go from 9,423 in 2009 up to 17,738 in 2015; this year, the total fell back to 15,031, a 12 percent decrease.

Big States

Among the 10 most populous states, the overall trend in foster youth is toward increase. Texas, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Georgia all saw substantial upticks this year.

California saw its foster care total drop by 2,816 (5 percent), the largest numerical drop of any state and its third consecutive year of decline. New York’s total has been declining for decades now, and continued this year with a 2 percent decrease.

Michigan and North Carolina saw slight increases this year, and Illinois had a small decrease in its foster care population.

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