This brief highlights the downward trend in the number of children entering the foster care system and the increasing proportion of children who leave care in a timely manner. This is likely due to changes in both federal and state policy as well as a shift in resources to upfront services. With time in care decreasing for the majority of children who are in the foster care system, states have an opportunity to better target resources to those who remain in care longer than two years. States should also seek to better understand what practices and/or policies are effective in reducing caseloads and time in care. There may be opportunities for states that have children with significantly lower lengths of stay in care to provide peer-to-peer networking and technical assistance to those states that may be struggling with reducing the time their children spend in care.
At the federal level, national and state-by-state analyses can better inform policy and can also identify areas where technical assistance may be helpful to states. Using administrative data from federal reporting systems, additional longitudinal analyses can explore both child and state-level characteristics that may or may not contribute to long lengths of stay. Future research from the Children’s Bureau, in partnership with other federal agencies, will involve examining the relationships between foster care experiences, child characteristics, and length of time spent in care as well as policy and fiscal implications. We encourage researchers to explore these data also.3 Service delivery and policies will need to respond to the changing foster care system landscape, and increasing our knowledge base with solid research will help inform best practices and drive decision making
3 Publicly available federal data sets, including AFCARS, are available to researchers through the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect (www.ndacan.cornell.edu).