This Thursday, the Children’s Bureau released the 26th annual report from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). Twice each year, states and tribes submit complete case-level data on every child served by the foster care system. This data is used for a variety of purposes, from conducting Child and Family Services Reviews to allocating funds that help youth in care transition to independence and adulthood. Importantly, the AFCARS reports allow us to better understand the experiences of children who come into contact with the child welfare system and to recognize trends and opportunities for reform.
This year, for the first time since 2012, we saw a decrease in the total number of children in the child welfare system. While the decrease was minor, about 4,000 children out of more than 435,000, it signals a potential turning point in a child welfare system that is increasingly focused on root causes and prevention. Also encouraging were a reduction in the number of children aging out of the system and a significant drop in the number of children placed in group homes instead of family-based care, with 20% fewer children in group homes than in the previous year.
This report offers reasons to be hopeful but also many opportunities for growth. Among other opportunities, the number of children waiting to be adopted grew for the 6th year in a row and, while national trends improved, 31 states saw an increase in the number of children in care. As we move forward with full implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act, the data in this report and those in future years will help the child welfare community target resources and will give us the opportunity to evaluate our work to ensure every child has the opportunity to grow up in a safe, stable and nurturing family.
To view AFCARS Report #26, click here.