Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health      

kidsdata advisory

The Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health | July 19, 2012

Four Major Data Trends in Foster Care in California

California is at a critical policy juncture in terms of ensuring better outcomes for children and youth in foster care, particularly for transition-age youth entering adulthood. Fifteen foster care indicators just updated on highlight four key trends affecting the 56,000 children and youth in California’s foster care system.

The recently passed state budget extends foster care to age 21 by January 1, 2014, building upon the California Fostering Connections to Success Act, which was enacted in 2010. The law followed the passage of landmark federal legislation, which permitted states to extend services, such as assistance with education, job training, and housing, to eligible youth in the child welfare system up to age 21, and provided federal funding for those services.

California originally opted to extend assistance up to the age of 19 in 2012, and age 20 in 2013. As a result, youth in extended foster care turning 19 this year were no longer eligible for state-funded services. To address this issue, the state budget closes the gap for youth already in extended foster care turning 19 this year, allowing them to continue to receive foster care services. Additionally, youth in extended foster care turning 20 in 2013 will remain eligible for services until their 21st birthday.

Health coverage for current and former foster youth is also critical. Many children have serious health issues and disabilities before they enter the child welfare system, and foster youth are more likely to experience poor health outcomes later in life than their peers. Foster youth currently are eligible for health care under Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California). Unlike other children, who can remain covered by their parents’ health insurance through the age of 26, foster children lose their coverage by age 21. Under the Affordable Care Act, on January 1, 2014, federal law will require states to allow former foster youth who were eligible for Medicaid upon their 18th birthday to remain eligible until age 26.

As these major policy shifts to California’s foster care system unfold, the data illustrate important trends that reflect the state’s progress in improving outcomes for foster youth, and highlight areas where continued focus is needed.

1. The number of children in foster care continues to decrease.

From 1998 to 2011, the number of children in foster care in California decreased by 48%, even as the state’s total child population increased. In 1998, there were 108,070 foster youth in California, but by 2011, that number had dropped to 56,138. In Los Angeles County, where one-third of the state’s foster youth reside, the number of youth in care decreased by 64% during 1998-2011. This reduction largely is due to efforts to shorten the amount of time children spend in foster care. Data indicate that children increasingly are being reunified with their parents in their first year of care. For example, in 1998, only 29% of children in foster care reunified with their parents within one year of being in care; by 2010, that percentage increased to 43%.

2. Children and youth from some racial/ethnic backgrounds continue to be overrepresented in foster care.

While some children of color have consistently been overrepresented in California’s foster care system, there have been significant changes in the racial/ethnic backgrounds of children in care in the past decade. For example, in 2000, African American children represented 35% of the children in foster care in California, but only 7% of the state’s child population. According to the most recent data, one in four (25%) foster children now is African American, although African American children represent only 6% of the state’s child population.

3. Percentage of older youth in foster care has increased since the late ’90s.

Although babies under the age of 1 are more likely to enter foster care for the first time than any other age group, most children in care are older. In 2011, 44% of California children and youth in care were ages 11 and older, compared to 36% in 1998. This likely reflects the success in returning new and generally younger children entering the foster care system to their families, while older children who have long been in foster care are much less likely to exit the system until they age out.

4. Fewer youth are remaining in long-term foster care, but the median time in care is still over one year.

Of California children who entered foster care in 2007, 6% remained in care four years later, compared to 16% who entered care in 1998. The median number of months that a child spends in foster care also decreased, from 17 months in 2001 to 13 months in 2009. In 31 of California’s 58 counties, the median time in foster care was over one year. In addition, there was great variation among California counties, with median time in care ranging from 2.5 months to 28 months.

Find Foster Care Data for Your County

More than 15 foster care indicators are now updated on

Related Data: Find data on several topics related to foster care, such as child abuse/neglect, disconnected youth, bullying, and more.

Read more about why this topic is important, related policy implications, and research on foster care. Mascot
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View this slideshow on foster care trends in California. Mascots is a program of the Lucile Packard Foundation of Children's Health, which uses data to promote the health and well being of children.
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