Focus on the Figures: Long Stays in Foster Care

Focus on the Figures is a regular partnership between The Imprint and, 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. Foster Youth Aging Out 2014

Definition: Percentage of children under age 18 entering foster care for the first time from January through June, by exit status one year after entering care (e.g., 34.9% of children who entered foster care in California in the first half of 2013 were reunified with their parents within 12 months).
Data Source: Webster, D., et al. California Child Welfare Indicators Project Reports, UC Berkeley Center for Social Services Research (May 2015).
Footnote: Exit status is calculated based on an unduplicated count of children under the supervision of county welfare departments and excludes children under the supervision of county probation departments, out-of-state agencies, state adoptions district offices, and Indian child welfare departments. Data are shown for children who entered foster care for the first time during the period, and who remained in care for 8 days or longer. LNE (Low Number Event) refers to data that have been suppressed because there were fewer than 120 total cases.

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