In 2017, the rate of children in foster care rose in 39 states

Publication Date:

Jan 03, 2019

Read the second blog in this series: One in three children entered foster care in 2017 because of parental drug abuse

The number of children and youth in foster care nationally rose for the fifth consecutive year, to 443,000, in federal fiscal year (FY) 2017. While still below the high of 567,000 in FY 1999, the FY 2017 number is a 1.5 percent increase from FY 2016 and a 12 percent increase from FY 2012, when the number of children and youth in care began rising after more than 10 years of decline. At the state level, Child Trends’ analysis of the newly released Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS) data shows that most states (39) experienced an increase from FY 2016 in the rate of children and young people in foster care. These rates range from a low of 2.5 per 1,000 children in Virginia to a high of 17.8 per 1,000 in West Virginia.

The map below shows the number and rate of children ages 17 and younger in foster care for every state, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Several factors contribute to the number of children in foster care in a given state—for example, different thresholds for entering foster care, or variations in services available to support the reunification of children and families. One contributing factor has received considerable policy and media attention over the last several years: the increase in opioid use and overdoses. Of the states with the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths in 2016 (West Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Massachusetts), all but the District of Columbia had increases in foster care rates. West Virginia had both the highest opioid overdose death rates and foster care rates.

While opioid use is one of the most obvious factors affecting the foster care system in recent years, there are many other influences on rates of entry and the post-entry experiences of children and families. A new monthly blog series from Child Trends that focuses on children and youth in foster care will look more closely at AFCARS data to explore why children and youth are entering care at the state level, and which children and youth are entering the foster care system. The series will also examine how 2020 changes to the AFCARS data collection requirements can help address some of the limitations of the current AFCARS.