The number of youth in foster care continued to fall in 2022, according to state-by-state data collected by The Imprint for its annual research project on foster care capacity, Who Cares: A National Count of Foster Homes and Families.
The release of an official federal tally of youth in foster care, collected through the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), typically lags a year behind. Last month, the 2021 AFCARS report — which uses a point-in-time count for September of each year — showed the number of youth in foster care to be 391,098, the first time it has been below 400,000 since 2012.
The Imprint’s 2022 data suggests that a gradual decline in foster care that began in 2018 continued this year. There were 381,176 youth in foster care around the end of March and early April, according to states’ responses to our annual request. We received an answer on the number of youth in foster care from every state except South Dakota, for which we developed a projection based on previous years.
It was widely expected that the 2020 AFCARS report would show a decline in the use of foster care, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced social isolation measures that limited the amount of maltreatment reporting and to some extent restricted the work of child welfare workers. But many voiced concern that as the United States moved out of lockdowns, a surge of abuse and neglect findings could leave child welfare systems in crisis.
Plenty of systems have indeed experienced crises, but largely related to the supply of people willing to work for them. The overall number of children in the foster care system has declined every year since the onset of the pandemic.
The number of licensed foster homes in America has also declined. Based on responses from 49 states, Washington, D.C., and a projection for Texas, there were 208,824 licensed homes in the country as of March 31, 2022. That is down from 220,002 in 2019, but the drop is actually slightly larger than that: we were unable to collect a total from Virginia in prior years, but this year the state reported 2,503 licensed homes.
Readers can access all of our foster care capacity data on the Who Cares website, where we have created unique profiles for each state and the District of Columbia using our state-collected data along with demographic datasets from AFCARS.
In addition to the number of youth in foster care and the amount of licensed foster homes, our 2022 state data collection includes the number of relatives with an active, ongoing placement; non-relative foster homes; and congregate care providers.
The site also includes the Family Separation metric created for this project by statistician Andy Barclay of Fostering Court Improvement. This captures the average number of days per year a child spends without family among all children in state.
All national and state profiles on the Who Cares site have been updated with The Imprint’s state-collected data for 2022. We will provide an update with more federal data for 2021 from AFCARS once it becomes available.
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