Children in Foster Care Down 22 Percent in Decade

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The total number of children in foster care continues to decline – down about 22 percent from 2000 to 2009 – new data released by the federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Report System (AFCARS) show. The results are now in Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center.

According to the new data, at the end of 2009, there were 423,773 children in foster care in the United States, 120,530 fewer than there were in 2000.

However, despite the decline in the number of children in foster care, the type of setting in which a child is placed has remained largely unchanged at the national level since 2000.

Forty-eight percent of children in foster care in 2009 were with non-relative foster families; 24 percent were with relatives; 16 percent were in group homes or institutions and 13 percent were in other settings. Other includes supervised and independent living, pre-adoptive homes, trial home visits and runaways.

Most experts believe that placing children with relatives or other caregivers with whom they are familiar reduces the inevitable trauma of being removed from their parental homes.

Previous research shows that youth who live in institutions or group homes are at a higher risk of developing physical, behavioral or emotional problems that ultimately can lead to negative outcomes. These children are also less likely to find a permanent home compared to those living with foster families.

In general, the data showed that younger children are much more likely to be living with foster families, whereas older children are more likely to be in group homes or institutions.

Thirty-three percent of children ages 1 to 5 are placed with relatives compared to just 11 percent of those 16 years and older. Additionally, only about 1percent of children ages 1to 5 are placed in group homes or institutions, compared with about 36 percent of those ages 16 and older.

In seven states, there are at least 25 percent of foster children in group homes or institutions, while nine states have less than 10 percent of foster children in group homes or institutions.

Eight states place at least 33 percent of foster children with relatives, while four states place less than 10 percent of children foster children with their relatives.

In 2000, the percentage of children who were in foster care who were Hispanic was 15 percent, but it had grown to 20 percent by 2009. Conversely, the percentage of children who were black was 39 percent in 2000, but had dropped to 30 percent in 2009. The percentage of foster children who were white was largely unchanged between 2000 and 2009.

In 2009, 276,266 children exited the foster care system. Of this number, 66 percent were reunited with their parent or a primary caretaker, relatives, or a guardian. Twenty percent of children who exited the system were adopted and 11 percent of children aged out of the system. The remaining 3 percent of children were either transferred to another agency or were runaways.

Click here to access the full report, which contains state by state breakdowns of all statistics.