The number of youth in foster care dropped below 400,000 for the first time since 2012 last year, according to data released today by the Administration for Children and Families.
There were 391,098 youth in foster care in 2021, according to today’s report from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, which uses a point-in-time count from September 30 of a given year to track the nation’s foster care population. That is a 4% decrease from 2020, an 8% drop from 2019, and an 11% decline from the recent peak of 437,337 in 2018.
The number of youth entering foster care continued to decline in 2021 to 206,812, down about 5% from 2020. That continuing trend suggests that while the social isolation policies that came with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic certainly contributed to fewer investigations of abuse and neglect, there could be other social and systemic factors contributing to decreasing use of foster care.
The number of youth exiting foster care also continued to decline last year dropping 4% from 224,396 to 214,971. And the share of those exits to reunification with parents also declined, from 48% to 47%.
The number of children who were adopted from foster care declined again in 2021 to 54,240, down from a record 66,208 in 2019. But the number of children whose case plan includes adoption and whose parents’ rights were terminated ticked up a bit from 63,836 in 2020 to 64,985.
About 63% of entries into foster care were associated with substantiations of neglect, down one percentage point from 2020. Twelve percent of entries were connected to physical abuse (it was 13% in 2020) and 4% to sexual abuse. Parental drug use was indicated in 36% of entries into foster care.
Youth Services Insider will update this with additional analysis on that data and more as we obtain and sift through it.