Who Cares:
A National Count of Foster Homes and Families

"Who Cares: A National Count of Foster Homes and Families" 2018 Executive Summary

The Imprint, a national news site focused on children, youth and families, has released this ambitious data and reporting project to examine where kids go when they’re removed from home.

“Who Cares: A National Count of Foster Homes and Families” yielded significant findings about states’ struggles to recruit and retain foster homes, and their increased reliance on relatives and group homes.

There are other options, but there are three main sources of placements for these kids:

1-The homes of relatives, which many states and the federal government stress as the preferable placement for kids when possible. This is a group that includes both licensed relatives and guardians, as well as informal placements with unlicensed relatives

2-Non-relative, licensed foster homes

3-Congregate Care, a term used to describe group settings such as group homes and institutions.

To develop as much knowledge as possible about each state's use of both options, we initiated information requests with each state and the District of Columbia and then obtained federally collected data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). We have presented some of the key datasets as national maps and charts, and include much more information in each state profile.

Following are just a few trends The Imprint has identified in analyzing the data we have collected.

Finally, A Decline in Foster Youth?

The five-year trend upward in national foster care numbers may have ended. Using 2018 data from every state excluding Maine,The Imprint projects a total of 439,020 youth in foster care this year. That is more than the 2016 total calculated through AFCARS. But this estimate represents 3,980 fewer children than The Imprint's 2017 projection of 443,000 children in care.

Still Struggling to Recruit

In year one of the project, we focused on non-relative homes and we found that more than half the states had either seen a decline in either total homes or individual foster care beds, or saw increases that were dwarfed by larger upticks in foster youth needing placements.

This year, we are able to make comparisons of non-relative foster homes between 2017 and 2018 in 24 states. Of those, 14 states lost foster homes between 2017 to 2018. Several states saw a 20 percent decline in one year alone:

Mississippi, -35%

Minnesota, -32%

Rhode Island, -32%

Colorado, -20%

The Rise of Relatives

Systems are increasingly reliant on relatives to care for foster children. Forty-four states saw an increase in relative placements from 2012 to 2016. Many states have increased this reliance on kin without supporting them in the same way they support other foster parents. According to AFCARS data, there are 23 states where more than half of all relative caregivers receive no foster care payment.

Persistent Reliance on Congregate Care

There is a growing consensus in child welfare that group homes and other congregate care placements should only be used as short-term or emergency options in child welfare. But federal data shows that 31 states have placed a higher percent of foster youth in these types of placements in 2016 than they did in 2012. Of those, 18 states saw an increase of 50 percent or more.

Why This All Matters

The foster care capacity of states has never been more critical. The opioid epidemic has helped to swell the number of foster youth in many states, which has challenged states to supply more foster homes and other placements.

Meanwhile, a new federal law called the Family First Prevention Services Act will take effect in October of 2019. The law will offer more funds to help states serve families without relying on foster care, and also strictly limits the use of federal money for congregate care placements.

The long-term hope is that the funds to prevent foster care will lower the number of youth removed from home, which could lower the demand for placements. But the short-term reality, at least in states that rely heavily on congregate care, they will need more foster homes available.

Note: This article was corrected on October 19 to remove an incorrect count of Georgia's non-relative foster homes.