Family reunification, the process of returning children living in foster care to their families of origin, is the most common goal for children in out-of-home care. Nationally, 51 percent of all youth who exited foster care in 2012 did so to be reunited with parents. By comparison, the next most frequency was adoption, which accounted for 21 percent of exits from foster care.
Placing children in foster care far away from their birth homes can complicate the already challenging process of getting foster youths back home.
The chart below shows a breakout of California’s foster youth population in 2011 based on the distance between their foster care placement to their home. It counts only those children who have been in foster care for more than 12 months:
According to 2011 data, less than half of those youth (49 percent) lived within five miles of their homes, and more than one third (36.7%) of those children lived in a foster care placement that was 11 or more miles from their home address.
There is not much in the way of national data on the subject of placement distance. In an attempt to keep youths closer to home, some state and county systems have started to search for placements by school district.
Illinois developed a geographic information system called SchoolMinder to do just that, and drastically reduced the average distance of placements. The average distance for initial foster care placement in Chicago dropped from 9.9 to 2.5 miles; for the rest of the state, the average dropped from 22.5 miles to 11.4 miles.