The number of U.S. children in foster care has been on the rise since 2012, and most experts agree that the upward trend will continue.
But how are states doing at ensuring there are enough foster homes and other placements to take these children in?
The Chronicle of Social Change recently completed a state-by-state research project to determine whether this increase in foster youth has been met with a proportional increase in foster homes.
The simple answer, for at least half of the states in this country, is no. Our report, “The Foster Care Housing Crisis” shows that at least half the states have seen their foster care capacity decrease since 2012.
Meanwhile, the number of children in foster care care has likely risen since 2015, the last year for which federal data is available. Based on 2017 figures provided to The Chronicle by many state agencies, we project the number has risen to about 443,000, a 3 percent increase from the federal 2015 data and an 11 percent increase from the 2012 data.
The Chronicle was able to collect enough information to make a comparison in 34 states and Washington, D.C. We used data obtained directly from state agencies to compare the number of non-relative beds or homes in 2012 to those available this year.
Of the 34 states, 14 states and D.C. saw a decline in the number of licensed non-relative beds or homes. Ten of those states saw an increase in the foster care population during this same time frame.
There were 20 states that saw a numerical increase in non-relative beds or homes available. But 11 of those also saw an increase in foster youth far greater than the increase in beds and homes.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service does not collect any data on foster home capacity. But the trend identified in this data is echoed in the findings of HHS’ periodic reviews of state systems, known as the Child and Family Services Review (CFSR).
Thirty-two of 50 states received a “Needs Improvement” rating on the CFSR when it came to the “Diligent Recruitment of Foster and Adoptive Parents” measure. In a number of states, the CFSRs reference a general shortage of foster homes.
Among the other findings from “The Foster Care Housing Crisis” report:
- In some states, a growing reliance on kinship care has offset the demand for non-relative homes. In other states, the percentage of foster youth placed with relatives has been flat since 2008.
- Overall increases in some states have masked localized or demographic shortfalls, meaning that some children may have to be placed far from home. In the CFSR process, HHS noted several states noted where stakeholders reported shortages in homes for certain regions, for older youth, Native American youth or sibling groups.
- Capacity challenges are not necessarily a byproduct of complacency. Some states have noted a concerted effort to recruit more foster homes in their documentation for the federal CFSR, only to yield fewer homes or growth that was outpaced by the increase of foster youth.
- Some states have succeeded in intentionally growing the number of beds available for foster children. The report notes strategies employed by Arkansas, Kentucky and New Jersey.
This report is strictly an attempt to gauge the trends in foster home capacity at a time when the number of foster youth in the country has increased. Two separate issues of greater importance that readers should consider:
- States that have seen their capacity compromised by a rising number of foster youth would be smart to assess whether they could keep more youth safely at home.
- Quality should not be compromised to address problems with quantity. The Senate Finance Committee recently released a report in which it expressed concern about state monitoring and quality control in foster care, particularly in regard to private providers.
Click here to read “The Foster Care Housing Crisis.”