Focus on the Figures: Exits from Foster Care after One Year

Every other week, The Chronicle of Social Change will feature one key indicator from, which offers comprehensive data about the health and well being of children across California.

Note: This article was updated on Oct. 18 to reflect good additional information passed along by reader Melissa Correia.

Among California children who entered foster care for the first time from January to June of 2011, 43 percent were reunified with their parents within a year, and 53 percent remained in foster care.


The percentage of foster children who are reunified with their parents within one year has generally increased over the past decade, but ticked down somewhat over the past two years. Less than 30 percent of children who entered foster care in early 1998 were reunified with parents within a year, and a peak of 45.2 percent reunification was reached in 2009.

The closest comparable national data comes from the Child Family Services Review outcomes data. According to measure C1.3 of the review, 41.3 percent of children who entered care for the first time were reunified within a year of removal in 2011. That is down from 43.4 percent in 2008.

At least one older study suggests that reunification within a year was a dubious prospect for most children entering foster care in the 1990s. The University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute analyzed data from a national sample of children taken into care from July of 1998 to February of 1999, and found that 78 percent of those youths were still in care after a year.

John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.


  1. Hi Daniel,

    I’d love to see the study from the CSSR that states that outcome re: youth aging out of care. Can you provide a link or a website? I have browsed their site but can’t seem to find it. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for highlighting an important issue!

    I’m a bit confused about the note that, “…national comparison data are limited on this specific point” This indicator is quite similar to the federal CFSR measure C1.3 which is reported annually by the Children’s Bureau at:

  3. While re-unification is the explicit and highest order goal for the child welfare system, there is an interesting piece of data from a 2013 study of educational outcomes of foster youth in California that offers some perspective:

    “Youth who aged out of care were 20% more likely to complete high school, 19% more likely to enter community college and 6% more likely to persist than youth who re-unified with family.” – Center for Social Services Research and the Institute of Evidence-Based Change (2013)

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