National Foster Care Numbers Continue To Rise; Up 10 Percent Since 2012

The number of youth living in foster care has increased for a fourth straight year, rising to 437,465 in 2016, according to data released today by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF).

The annual report from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) shows the foster care total up 2.3 percent since 2015, and up 10.2 percent since 2012, the year when the national foster care total began a steady ascent after more than a decade of decline.

The annual number of youth in care is a product of new entries and youth who remain in care from the previous count. The number of new entries into care has increased to 273,539, up from 268,720 last year.

The number of youth exiting care also continues to increase. There were 250,248 youth who exited care last year, up from 243,043 in 2015.

The increase in exits appears to be fueled in part by more finalizations of adoptions. There were 57,208 children adopted from foster care in 2016, up 12 percent from 2014. The number of children listed as awaiting adoption, and the number of birth parents whose parental rights have been terminated, have also increased in recent years.

“While our adoptions from foster care numbers are on the rise, reuniting or preventing a child from entering foster care is always our number one goal,” said Jerry Milner, acting commissioner for the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, which oversees child welfare funding and policy within ACF.

The Trump administration, as the Obama administration before it, voiced concern that the rise in foster care placements is connected to the rising opioid and heroin epidemic in America. Approximately 92,000 children were removed from their homes in FY 2016 because at least one parent had a drug abuse issue, according to ACF.

“The continued trend of parental substance abuse is very concerning, especially when it means children must enter foster care as a result,” said Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary for children and families at ACF, in a release that accompanied today’s report. “The seriousness of parental substance abuse, including the abuse of opioids, is an issue we at HHS will be addressing through prevention, treatment and recovery-support measures.”

In March, President Donald Trump established the Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission to advise the White House on the rising opioid and heroin epidemic in the United States.

Last year, Congress appropriated $500 million to help states address opioid use. But many child and family advocates feared that efforts to rewrite federal health care policy would decimate federal funding for addiction treatment.

The number of youth in foster care peaked in 1999, when AFCARS counted 567,000 children in care. The number dropped every year until it reached 397,122 in 2012.

Earlier this month, The Chronicle of Social Change projected an increase in overall foster care numbers that has coincided with a dearth of foster care placements.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at