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- Definition: Percentage of first entries into foster care for children under age 18, by type of out-of-home placement (e.g., 27.3% of children entering foster care for the first time in California in 2013-2015 were placed with relatives).
- Data Source: Webster, D., et al. Child Welfare Services Reports for California, U.C. Berkeley Center for Social Services Research (Jun. 2016).
- Footnote: First entries into foster care are unduplicated counts of children under the supervision of county welfare departments and exclude cases under the supervision of county probation departments, out-of-state agencies, state adoptions district offices, and Indian child welfare departments. Counts are based on the first out-of-home placement of eight days or more, even if it was not the first actual placement. A 'Foster Family Agency Home' is overseen by licensed non-profit agencies, whereas 'Foster Homes' are licensed directly by a county. (For more on Foster Family Agencies, see http://www.childsworld.ca.gov/PG1346.htm.) A 'Court Specified Home' can be of any type, but is mandated by the court. 'Other' includes medical facilities, tribe-specified homes, and pre-adoptive care. LNE (Low Number Event) refers to data that have been suppressed because there were fewer than 160 first entries into foster care. The sum of all placement type percentages may not sum to 100% due to missing values.
- Measures of Foster Care on Kidsdata.org
Foster care is measured in several ways, with each indicator illustrating a different aspect of this complex system. First entries into care reflects the incidence of children who are removed from unsafe home environments. 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 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. 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 into care reflect repeated maltreatment.
- Foster Care
- First Entries into Foster Care
- Children in Foster Care
- Length of Time from Foster Care to Adoption
- Median Number of Months in Foster Care
- Placement Distances from Home
- Placement Stability, by Number of Placements
- Re-entries into Foster Care
- Exit Status After One Year in Foster Care
- Exit Status After Four Years in Foster Care
- Births Outside of Marriage (California & U.S. Only)
- Child Population (Regions of 65,000 Residents or More)
- Children in Rural and Urban Areas (California & U.S. Only)
- Child Population, by County
- Total Population
- Public School Enrollment
- Child Abuse and Neglect
- Intimate Partner Violence
- Childhood Adversity and Resilience
- Children with Two or More Adverse Experiences (Parent Reported)
- Children Who Are Resilient (Parent Reported)
- Prevalence of Childhood Hardships (Maternal Retrospective)
- by Family Income (CA Only)
- by Maternal Age (CA Only)
- by Prenatal Insurance Coverage (CA Only)
- by Race/Ethnicity (CA Only)
- Foster Care Placement
- Foster Care Placement, by Family Income (CA Only)
- Foster Care Placement, by Maternal Age (CA Only)
- Foster Care Placement, by Prenatal Insurance Coverage (CA Only)
- Foster Care Placement, by Race/Ethnicity (CA Only)
- Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (Adult Retrospective)
- Disconnected Youth
- 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 unable to provide adequate care. The U.S. foster care system aims to safely reunify children with their parents or secure another permanent home, e.g., through adoption. However, too often this goal is not achieved (1, 2). Instead, many children spend years in foster homes or group homes, often moving multiple times (1, 3). These children are at increased risk for a variety of emotional, physical, behavioral, and academic problems (3). 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 (4, 5).
Nationally, about 10% of foster youth "age out" of the system (without being reunified with their families or adopted), and services often end abruptly (2, 6). Many states, including California, now extend services past age 18 up to 21. While the Affordable Care Act ensures that health coverage continues until age 26, “aging out” of the foster care system can create many challenges for youth (2, 6). A high percentage of these youth experience inadequate housing, low educational and career attainment, early parenthood, substance abuse, physical and mental health problems, and involvement with the criminal justice system (3, 6). Much work is under way to help ensure that these vulnerable youth have the support, skills, and resources to successfully transition to adulthood (2, 6).For more information about foster care, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.
Sources for this narrative:
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. (2014). Child welfare outcomes 2009–2012: Report to Congress. Retrieved from: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/resource/cwo-09-12
2. Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Enhancing permanency for youth in out-of-home care. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. Retrieved from: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/focus/enhancing
3. Child Trends Databank. (2015). Foster care. Retrieved from: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=foster-care
4. As cited on kidsdata.org, First entries into foster care. (2016). U.C. Berkeley Center for Social Services Research & Child Trends.
5. KIDS COUNT Data Center. (2016). Children entering foster care. Retrieved from: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/6269-children-entering-foster-care?loc=1&loct=2#ranking/2/any/true/869/any/13036
6. Russ, E., & Fryar, G. (2014). Creating access to opportunities for youth in transition from foster care. American Youth Policy Forum. Retrieved from: http://www.aypf.org/resources/creating-access-to-opportunities-for-youth-in-transition-from-foster-care-2
- How Children Are Faring
In 2015, 62,035 children and youth in California were living in foster care, a rate of 5.8 per 1,000. After hitting a 16-year low of 5.1 per 1,000 in 2011 and 2012, the rate of children in care has risen in recent years. Since 1998, the rate of first entries into care has fluctuated but decreased overall from 3.5 entries per 1,000 children/youth to 2.7 per 1,000 in 2015. Among counties with data, in-care rates ranged from 1.5 to 24.9 per 1,000 and first entry rates ranged from 0.6 to 11 per 1,000 in 2015. In California, 86% of children who entered foster care for the first time in 2013-15 were removed from their families due to neglect, 8% due to physical abuse, and 2% due to sexual abuse. For children who entered care in the first half of 2014, 36% were reunified with their families and 61% were still in foster care one year later. The median length of time California children spent in foster care declined between 2001 and 2009 from 17.2 to 13.2 months, but then rose to 15.6 months in 2013.
Rates of first entry into foster care and in-care rates vary by race/ethnicity and age. Among groups with data, African American/black and American Indian/Alaska Native children in California consistently have the highest rates of children/youth in foster care—23.7 and 21.3 per 1,000, respectively, in 2015, compared to 5.7 per 1,000 for Hispanic/Latino, 4.9 for white, and 1.1 for Asian/Pacific Islander children. Of all age groups, infants consistently have the highest rates of first entry into foster care. In 2013-15, the rate of California infants entering foster care for the first time (12.2 per 1,000) was nearly 3 times the rate of children ages 1-2, nearly 4 times that of ages 3-5, and more 5 times that of older age groups.For more information on racial disproportionality and inequities in child welfare, see the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
- 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 have an important role in helping to prevent children from entering foster care, ensuring the health and well being of those in care, and facilitating the connections and opportunities that enable youth “aging out” of the system to thrive as adults.
Policy and program options that could help prevent children from entering foster care and improve outcomes for those in care include:
For more information, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section, or visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway, California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare, or California Fostering Connections Project.
- Continuing to ensure that effective prevention services are in place for families with children at risk of abuse or neglect, such as family support, parent education, and home-visiting services (1)
- Supporting efforts to provide an accessible system of quality mental health services for children in foster care or at risk of entering care, as well as for their parents (2)
- Continuing efforts to recruit, strengthen, and support foster homes provided by relatives of children in care, removing barriers that can make it difficult for relatives to provide care; and when children cannot be placed with kin, prioritizing placements in other family settings over group settings (3)
- Continuing to address family separation issues as a consequence of immigration enforcement (4)
- Supporting effective strategies to reduce the overrepresentation of, and improve outcomes for, children of color in foster care (5)
- Implementing and strengthening laws and child welfare agency practices to protect and support LGBTQ youth in foster care (6)
- Continuing to increase awareness of and improve responses to the commercial sexual exploitation of youth in foster care (7, 8)
- In accordance with California’s Local Control Funding Formula, supporting the educational success of children in foster care by addressing issues such as social, health, and academic needs (including specialized services), school enrollment barriers, and the need for communication and data sharing, among other issues; also, ensuring that foster youth are aware of and have support to pursue postsecondary education and workforce opportunities (9, 10, 11)
- Ensuring effective implementation of existing laws that support foster youth in the transition to adulthood, including the California Fostering Connections to Success Act which extends foster care services to age 21, and the Affordable Care Act which extends Medicaid coverage to foster youth until age 26 (12)
- Promoting efforts to increase collaboration across sectors (e.g., child welfare, education, health care, housing, public assistance, workforce systems, and others) to ensure that all foster youth—including those with disabilities, parenting and pregnant foster youth, those facing homelessness, and other vulnerable groups—receive the services and support they need to thrive (11, 12, 13)
Sources for this narrative:
1. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2016). Child abuse and neglect: Prevention strategies. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childmaltreatment/prevention.html
2. California Department of Social Services, & California Department of Health Care Services. (2013). Pathways to mental health services: Core practice model guide. Retrieved from: http://www.childsworld.ca.gov/res/pdf/CorePracticeModelGuide.pdf
3. Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2015). Every kid needs a family: Giving children in the child welfare system the best chance for success. Retrieved from: http://www.aecf.org/resources/every-kid-needs-a-family
4. Lincroft, Y. (2013). The Reuniting Immigrant Families Act: A case study on California’s Senate Bill 1064. First Focus State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center. Retrieved from: http://childwelfaresparc.org/the-reuniting-immigrant-families-act-a-case-study-of-californias-senate-bill-1064
5. Miller, O., & Esenstad, A. (2015). Strategies to reduce racially disparate outcomes in child welfare. Center for the Study of Social Policy, Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare. Retrieved from: http://www.cssp.org/publications/child-welfare?type=child_welfare_alliance_for_race_equity
6. Human Rights Campaign. (n.d.). LGBTQ youth in the foster care system. Retrieved from: http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/lgbt-youth-in-the-foster-care-system
7. Walker, K. (2013). Ending the commercial sexual exploitation of children: A call for multi-system collaboration in California. California Child Welfare Council. Retrieved from:
8. Children’s Defense Fund, et al. (2015). Implementing the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (P.L. 113-183) to benefit children and youth. Retrieved from: http://www.childrensdefense.org/library/data/implementing-the-preventing.pdf
9. Frerer, K., et al. (2013). At greater risk: California foster youth and the path from high school to college. Stuart Foundation. Retrieved from: http://stuartfoundation.org/greater-risk-california-foster-youth-path-high-school-college/
10. Alliance for Children’s Rights, et al. (n.d.). Foster youth education toolkit. Retrieved from: http://kids-alliance.org/edtoolkit
11. Russ, E., & Fryar, G. (2014). Creating access to opportunities for youth in transition from foster care. American Youth Policy Forum. Retrieved from: http://www.aypf.org/resources/creating-access-to-opportunities-for-youth-in-transition-from-foster-care-2
12. California Fostering Connections Project. (n.d.). California fostering connections to success. Retrieved from: http://www.cafosteringconnections.org
13. Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. (2014). From foster home to homeless: Strategies to prevent homelessness for youth transitioning from foster care. Retrieved from: http://www.jimcaseyyouth.org/foster-home-homeless-strategies-prevent-homelessness-youth-transitioning-foster-care
- Websites with Related Information
- Annie E. Casey Foundation: Child Welfare
- California Dept. of Social Services: Foster Care
- California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare
- Center for the Study of Social Policy: Child Welfare
- CHAMPS: A Campaign to Ensure Bright Futures for Kids in Foster Care
- Child Trends: Child Maltreatment/Child Welfare
- Child Welfare, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago
- Child Welfare Information Gateway, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau
- Child Welfare League of America
- First Focus State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center
- Healthy Foster Care America, American Academy of Pediatrics
- National Center for Youth Law: Foster Care
- National Extended Foster Care Review, Juvenile Law Center
- Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation: Abuse, Neglect, Adoption & Foster Care, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
- Represent: The Voice of Youth in Care, Youth Communication
- Key Reports and Research
- 2018 California Children's Report Card, Children Now
- Child Welfare and Immigration: Implications for Funders, 2018, Youth Transition Funders Group, Foster Care Workgroup, and the National Center for Youth Law, Desai, N., & Adamson, M.
- Children Living Apart from Their Parents: Highlights from the National Survey of Children in Nonparental Care, 2016, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Radel, L., et al.
- Commercially Sexually Exploited Girls and Young Women Involved in Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice in Los Angeles County: An Exploration and Evaluation of Placement Experiences and Services Received, 2018, National Center for Youth Law, Dierkhising, C. B., et al.
- Disproportionality, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Child Welfare Information Gateway
- Embracing a “Youth Welfare” System: A Guide to Capacity Building, 2018, Capacity Building Center for States, Children’s Bureau, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
- Entangled Roots: The Role of Race in Policies that Separate Families, 2018, Center for the Study of Social Policy, Minoff, E.
- Family First Prevention Services Act, 2019, National Conference of State Legislatures
- Foster Youth Education Toolkit, Alliance for Children’s Rights, et al.
- Fostering Youth Transitions: Using Data to Drive Policy and Practice Decisions, 2018, Annie E. Casey Foundation
- LGBTQ Youth in the Foster Care System, Human Rights Campaign
- Mental and Physical Health of Children in Foster Care, 2016, Pediatrics, Turney, K., & Wildeman, C.
- Report from CalYOUTH: Findings on the Relationship Between Extended Foster Care and Youth’s Outcomes at Age 21, 2018, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, Courtney, M. E., et al.
- Strategies to Reduce Racially Disparate Outcomes in Child Welfare, 2015, Center for the Study of Social Policy, Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare, Miller, O., & Esenstad, A.
- Supporting Pathways to Long-Term Success for Systems-Involved Youth: Lessons Learned, 2017, American Youth Policy Forum
- County/Regional Reports
- 2014 Solano Children's Report Card, Children's Network of Solano County
- 2017 Kern County Report Card, Kern County Network for Children
- 2018-19 California County Scorecard of Children's Well-Being, Children Now
- Live Well San Diego Report Card on Children, Families, and Community, 2017, The Children's Initiative & Live Well San Diego
- Santa Clara County Children's Agenda: 2018 Data Book, Planned Parenthood & Kids in Common
- Santa Monica Youth Wellbeing Report Card, Santa Monica Cradle to Career
- The 24th Annual Report on the Conditions of Children in Orange County, 2018, Orange County Children's Partnership
- More Data Sources For Foster Care
- California Child Welfare Indicators Project, UC Berkeley Center for Social Services Research & California Dept. of Social Services
- Children’s Bureau: Statistics & Research, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
- Children's Data Network, USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work
- Continuum of Care Reform (CCR) Data Dashboard, California Dept. of Social Services
- KIDS COUNT Data Center, Annie E. Casey Foundation
- National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect, Cornell University, College of Human Ecology
- National Survey of Children in Nonparental Care, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- State Child Welfare Policy Database, Child Trends & Casey Family Programs
- State-Level Data for Understanding Child Welfare in the United States, 2019, Child Trends
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