Focus on the Figures: Re-Entry into Foster Care

Every other week, The Imprint features one key indicator from, which offers comprehensive data about the health and well-being of children across California.

This installment of “Focus on the Figures” examines the rate at which youths return to foster care after an attempt at family reunification. As a gauge of the intervention success and the timing of reunification, re-entry rate is one of the most important measures reported by child welfare systems.

In 2011, 12 percent of California children who were reunified with their families re-entered foster care in less than 12 months. But a drilled-down look reveals that the rates varied widely by county: one had a rate of 1 percent, another had an alarming 32 percent re-entry rate.


Nationally, the federal Children’s Bureau’s Child Welfare Outcomes Report eyes re-entry with a slightly different measuring stick than Kidsdata. Instead of gauging re-entry within 12 months of actual reunification, the Children’s Bureau measures re-entry “within 12 months of a prior episode” and “more than 12 months after a prior episode.”

States vary widely on both counts. Data from 2012 shows that the range of re-entry within 12 months swings from a low of 2.7 percent to a high of 20 percent. Re-entries after 12 months range from 1.2 percent to 15.5 percent.

John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Imprint

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