Focus on the Figures is a regular partnership between The Imprint and KidsData.org, a nonprofit dedicated to providing data on the health and well-being of California’s children.
The U.S. foster care system is structured to provide temporary, safe living arrangements and therapeutic services for children who cannot remain safely at home due to child maltreatment or for children whose parents are unable to provide adequate care. The aim, at all times, is to either reunify children with their parents or secure another source of permanency with other family or through adoption.
Too often this goal is not achieved. Instead, many children spend years in foster homes or group homes, often moving multiple times.
Many such youths – about 10 percent nationwide — will “age out” of foster care and into adulthood. A high percentage of these youth experience inadequate housing, low educational and career attainment, early parenthood, substance abuse, physical and mental health problems, and involvement with the criminal justice system.
In 2014, 62,097 children and youth in California were living in foster care, about 15 percent of all the youth in foster care in the country. The median length of time California children spent in foster care declined between 2001 and 2009 from 17 to 13 months, but then rose to 15 months in 2012.
A central driver of that uptick appears to be Los Angeles County, the largest single child welfare system in the country. In the late 1990s, more than three quarters of kids removed by the county stayed in foster care for more than a year.
By 2011, 53.5 percent stayed in foster care that long. But in a two-year window, that proportion has spiked back up to 62.6 percent.
The surge in lengthy stays is even more pronounced in nearby Orange County. Just about half of youths exited foster care after staying more than a year in 2010; that figure is now up to 75.5 percent.