First Entries into Foster Care, by Age
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Learn More About Foster Care

Measures of Foster Care on Kidsdata.org
Foster care is measured several different ways, with each indicator illustrating a different aspect of this complex system. Rate of first entries into foster care reflects the incidence of children who are removed from unsafe home environments. Number of children in care provides a snapshot of actual children in foster care at a point in time. Placement distance describes the availability of local foster homes; it generally is preferable to place foster children close to home. Placement stability is important, as it is traumatic for children to be moved from one living situation to another. Median number of months in foster care gives an indication of how much time children are spending in foster care. Length of time to adoption describes how quickly the child welfare system is able to secure a permanent, safe home for a child who cannot return to his or her family of origin. And exit status after one year in care, and after four years in care, give a picture of what happens to children after being in foster care for each amount of time, while re-entries to care reflect repeated maltreatment.
See below for links to research and more information about foster care.
Foster Care
Bullying and Harassment at School
Demographics
Child Abuse and Neglect
Dating and Domestic Violence
Disconnected Youth
School Safety
Why This Topic Is Important
Foster care is intended to provide temporary, safe living arrangements and therapeutic services for children who cannot remain safely at home due to child maltreatment or for children whose parents are not able to provide adequate care. The goal of the U.S. foster care system is to safely reunify children with their parents or secure another permanent home, such as adoption. However, too often this goal is not achieved (1). Instead, many children spend years in foster homes or group homes, often moving multiple times (2). These children are at increased risk for a variety of emotional, behavioral, and academic problems (1). Recognizing these issues, advocates and policymakers have made efforts to safely reduce the number of children living in foster care. While the number of children in care has decreased substantially in the U.S. and California over the previous decade, California continues to have the largest number of children entering the system (3).

Foster care services typically end abruptly at age 18 or 21, depending on the state; California has opted to extend care up to age 21. This end in services can create acute challenges for young adults who "age out" of the system. While many of these young people go on to lead successful lives, others fare poorly. A high percentage experience inadequate housing, low educational and career attainment, early parenthood, substance abuse, physical and mental health problems, and involvement with the legal system (2). Some of these problems may stem from their experience with abuse/neglect; and some problems may result from a lack of services and systemic planning to equip youth with the skills and resources to successfully transition to adulthood (2). The percentage of youth who age out of foster care has increased over the last decade, from 7% in 1998 to 11% in 2010, nationwide (2).

For more information about foster care, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Child Trends. (2011). Foster care data snapshot. (Publication No. 2011-19). Retrieved from: http://www.childtrends.org/?publications=foster-care-data-snapshot  

2.  Howard, J., & Berzin, S. (2011). Never too old: Achieving permanency and sustaining connections for older youth in foster care. Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Retrieved from:  http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/research/2011_07_never_too_old.php

3. Kidscount. (2011). Children entering foster care. Retrieved from: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/acrossstates/Rankings.aspx?ind=6269

How Children Are Faring
In 2012, 55,218 children and youth in California were in foster care, a 49% decline since 1998. The rate of first entries into foster care fell from 3.5 per 1,000 children ages 0-17 in 1998 to 2.7 in 2012. County rates of first entries in 2012 ranged from 0.9 to 16.3 per 1,000, among counties with available data. In California, 81% of children who entered foster care for the first time in 2010-12 were removed from their families due to neglect; 10% due to physical abuse; and 3% due to sexual abuse. For children who entered care in the first half of 2011, 43% were reunified with their families and 53% were still in foster care one year later. Overall, California children are spending less time in foster care than a decade ago, although the median number of months in care increased slightly between 2009 and 2010, to 14 months.

The rate of first entries into foster care varies by age and race/ethnicity. In 2010-12, the rate of California infants entering foster care (10.8 per 1,000) was more than double the rate of ages 1-2, more than 3 times that of ages 3-5, and more than 4 times that of older children. African American/Black and American Indian/Alaska Native children consistently have the highest rates of foster care entry, at 8.2 and 8.3 per 1,000, respectively, in 2010-12; this compares to 2.6 for Latino, 2.6 for white, and 0.7 for Asian/Pacific Islander children during the same period.
For more information on racial disproportionality and disparities in child welfare, see the Child Welfare Information Gateway's Disproportionality Resources and a recent synthesis of research on the issue. Also, see links below.
Policy Implications
Children and youth in foster care interact with a range of public and private systems that can support them and help them obtain permanent, safe homes. Policymakers can promote positive health and well being for children in foster care and facilitate the connections that enable youth “aging out” of the child welfare system to thrive as adults.

According to research and subject experts, policies that could provide better support and improve outcomes for children and youth in foster care include:
  • Providing a range of prevention services to families of children at risk of abuse or neglect, including accurate risk assessment, parenting education, and home-visiting services (1, 2) 
  • Addressing family separation issues as a consequence of immigration enforcement (3) 
  • Removing barriers to licensing foster homes for relatives of children in care, including helping kin guardians cover unexpected costs of care (4) 
  • Providing an accessible system of mental health services for children in foster care, including early assessment and referrals (2, 5)
  • Implementing procedures for the management of information related to the sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression of youth under the supervision of child welfare agencies to ensure their safety and well being (6) 
  • Supporting effective strategies to improve outcomes for, and reduce the overrepresentation of, children of color in the child welfare system, especially African American/Black and American Indian/Alaska Native children (7, 8)
  • Increasing awareness of and response to the commercial sexual exploitation of youth in foster care (9)
  • Supporting the educational success of children in foster care by addressing school enrollment barriers; children’s social, health, and academic needs, including specialized services; and the need for effective communication and data sharing among schools, foster parents, and the child welfare system (10, 11)
  • Addressing the needs of parenting and pregnant foster youth, such as ensuring access to child care, and providing age appropriate reproductive health education (12)
  • Ensuring proper implementation of existing law supporting youth ages 18-21, providing them with needed services and opportunities for successful emancipation from foster care (13)

For more research to support policy on child abuse prevention and foster care, see the Child Welfare Information Gateway, the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare, and California Fostering Connections. For implementation tools, see Child Welfare League of America

Sources for this narrative:

1. Princeton Universities and Brookings Institution. (2009). Preventing child maltreatment. The Future of Children, 19(2). Retrieved from: http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/docs/19_02_FullJournal.pdf

2.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2009). 
Preventing child maltreatment through the promotion of safe, stable, nurturing relationships between children and caregivers. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/CM_Strategic_Direction--Long-a.pdf

3. Lincroft, Y. (2013). 
‘The Reuniting Immigrant Families Act’: A case study on California’s Senate Bill 1064. Retrieved from: http://childwelfaresparc.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/reuniting-immigrant-families-act-brief.pdf

4. Kids Count, The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2012). Stepping up for kids: What government and communities should do to support kinship families. Retrieved from: http://www.aecf.org/KnowledgeCenter/Publications.aspx?pubguid=%7b642BF3F2-9A85-4C6B-83C8-A30F5D928E4D%7d

5. Delgado, M. (2010). 
Proposition 63: Is the Mental Health Services Act reaching California’s transition age foster youth? Children’s Advocacy Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.caichildlaw.org/Misc/Proposition_63_Report_FINAL_Master.pdf

6. Putting Pride into Practice Project, Family Builders by Adoption. (2013).
Guidelines for managing information related to the sexual orientation & gender identity and expression of children in child welfare systems. Retrieved from: http://www.nclrights.org/site/DocServer/Information_Guidelines_FINAL_DRAFT_3-20-13.pdf 

7. Miller, O. (2009).
Reducing racial disproportionality and disparate outcomes for children and families of color in the child welfare system. Casey Family Programs. Retrieved from: http://www.casey.org/Resources/Publications/pdf/BreakthroughSeries_ReducingDisproportionality_process.pdf

8. Center for the Study of Social Policy, PolicyforResults.org. (April 2011). 
Achieve racial equity in child welfare services. Retrieved from: http://policyforresults.org/Topics/Policy-Areas/Children-Safe-Supportive-Successful-Families/Increase-Exits-from-Foster-Care-to-PERMANENCY/Exits-to-Permanency/Executive-Summary/Racial-Disproportionality.aspx

9. Walker, K. (2013). Ending the commercial sexual exploitation of children: A call for multi-system collaboration in California. California Child Welfare Council. Retrieved from: http://www.youthlaw.org/fileadmin/ncyl/youthlaw/publications/Ending-CSEC-A-Call-for-Multi-System_Collaboration-in-CA.pdf

10. Frerer, K. et al. (2013).
At greater risk: California foster youth and the path from high school to college. Stuart Foundation. Retrieved from: http://www.stuartfoundation.org/OurStrategy/vulnerableYouthInChildWelfare/at-greater-risk

11. National Working Group on Foster Care and Education. (2011). 
Educational outcomes for children and youth in foster and out-of-home care. Retrieved from: http://www.casey.org/resources/publications/EducationalOutcomes.htm

12. Center for the Study of Social Policy. (nd).
Pregnant & parenting youth in foster care: A guide to service improvements. Retrieved from: http://www.cssp.org/reform/child-welfare/pregnant-and-parenting-teens

13. Courtney, M. et al. (2013). Providing foster care for young adults: Early implementation of California’s Fostering Connections Act. Retrieved from:
http://www.chapinhall.org/sites/default/files/Providing%20Foster%20Care%20For%20Young%20Adults_2_13.pdf

Websites with Related Information
Key Reports
County/Regional Reports