New data on children in foster care released

Just the other week, the Children’s Bureau released new AFCARS data.  The below chart taken from their website shows the data trends from FY2002- FY2009.

I was looking over the data with my colleague, and being a numbers guy (our finance director to be exact) David and I decided to look a little closer at the numbers.  We noticed two significant trends:

1) Why are so many more children being adopted out of foster care than ever before?

Between 2002-2009, the number of children waiting to be adopted decreased from 134,000 to 115,000.  However, the number of children adopted with public child welfare agency involvement actually increased from 51,000 to 57,000 over the same time period.

This represents a substantial increase in the percentage of children waiting to be adopted who were actually adopted.  In 2002, only 34% of waiting children were adopted but by 2009 that had increased to over 49% of waiting children who were adopted.  The AFCARS data also shows that the percentage of children in care whose parental rights have been terminated and were then adopted increased from 68% to 81% between 2002 and 2009.

The problem is that no real answer exists for this question.  Several factors may be influencing this decrease in the number of waiting children and the spike in adoptions out of foster care:

  • Policies continue to improve to promote more efficient processing of adoptions.  This is in response to efforts to minimize time in care or prevent placement in foster care.
  • Over the past few years, adopting internationally has increasingly become more difficult due to changes in foreign country’s own adoption practices.  According to the State Department, international adoption is down from a high of almost 23,000 in 2004 to under 13,000 in 2009.
  • Campaigns such as National Adoption Day , AdoptUsKids/Ad Council PSAs, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, and many others to encourage foster care adoption and recruit adoptive parents have increased over the years

2) Why are there so many less children in foster care now?

Between 2002-2009, the number of children in foster care decreased by almost 100,000 from 523,000 to 424,000.  The number of children entering care has decreased by as little as 7% or as much as 17% each year.  This is due in part to increasing programs and funding to assist families and keep children out of the system.

In an Associated Press article examining this topic, Richard Wexler of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform shares, “Now, finally, it’s sinking in that most cases labeled ‘neglect’ — the single largest category of maltreatment — are really poverty, and it makes more sense to try to deal with the poverty than destroy the family.”

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The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to raising awareness about the millions of children around the world in need of permanent, safe, and loving homes and to eliminating the barriers that hinder these children from realizing their basic right of a family.

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