A Temporary Haven: Children and Youth Are Spending Less Time in Foster Care. Time in Care: National Trends and State Differences

09/01/2014

While the entry cohort analyses presented above reflect the total amount of time children spend in the foster care system, point-in-time (PIT) data are a snapshot reflecting the amount of time children had been in the system as of a particular date.  PIT measures are useful for trend analyses as they provide a picture of what a “typical” caseload is on a given day every year and also allow for more up-to-date measures than the cohort measure, which lags by five years.  Both approaches, when used together, provide a comprehensive understanding of foster care caseloads and highlight the gains the foster care system has made with fewer children entering the system and decreases in the time children spend in care.  Results from the examination of the lengths of stay in foster care for children as of the last day of any given federal fiscal year (September 30th) indicate that children are spending less time in foster care.  From 2002 to 2013, the proportion of children on the last day of the fiscal year who had spent more than two years in foster care decreased from 42 percent to 28 percent (Figure 3).  Additionally, during that same time period the average length of time spent in foster care declined sharply from more than 2.5 years (31.8 months) to less than 2 years (21.9 months), a 31 percent decrease.   

Figure 3.  Percent of Children in Care on Sept 30th by Length of Time in Care

  FY 2002FY 2013
 Less than 6 Months22.0%27.8%
6 Months to 1 Year16.0%19.7%
1 to 2 Years20.2%24.3%
2 Years Or More41.8%28.2%

 

These national figures reveal an overall improvement in reducing lengths of stay in care, and states continue to make progress.  Over the past decade, 46 states have decreased the average length of time children stay in foster care.  In fact, 27 of those states decreased their average length of time in foster care by 25 percent or more from 2002 to 2013 (Figure 4). 

 

Figure 4. Percent Change from FY 2002 to FY 2013 in Average Lengths of Time in Care by State

Figure 4. Percent Change from FY 2002 to FY 2013 in Average Lengths of Time in Care by State

Percent Change from FY 2002 to FY 2013 in Average Lengths of Time in Care by State


Percent Change from FY 2002 to FY 2013 in Average Lengths of Time in Care by State

StatePercent Change from 2002 to 2013
New Hampshire-51.0%
Maine-49.9%
West Virginia-48.2%
Nevada-47.4%
Tennessee-47.3%
Arizona-44.9%
Louisiana-41.7%
California-39.2%
Georgia-37.3%
Wisconsin-36.1%
South Carolina-35.1%
Florida-34.7%
New Jersey-34.6%
Virginia-33.8%
Minnesota-33.7%
Pennsylvania-33.6%
Maryland-32.9%
Alabama-32.8%
Missouri-31.7%
Mississippi-31.7%
Idaho-31.7%
Illinois-31.4%
Montana-29.9%
Vermont-29.2%
Massachusetts-28.0%
Ohio-27.9%
Kentucky-25.9%
Wyoming-24.5%
Indiana-24.3%
North Carolina-22.9%
Oklahoma-21.9%
Alaska-21.8%
Rhode Island-21.3%
Kansas-21.3%
New York-20.8%
Arkansas-19.4%
Texas-18.0%
Utah-15.5%
Iowa-11.5%
Washington-10.3%
New Mexico-9.4%
Colorado-8.8%
Michigan-8.7%
North Dakota-8.1%
Nebraska-2.6%
Hawaii-1.2%
Oregon5.8%
District of Columbia7.5%
Connecticut9.5%
South Dakota9.7%
Delaware16.9%

In 2013, the average lengths of stay in foster care ranged from 47.4 months to 13.3 months across the states.  About one in five states had mean lengths of stay that were above the national average of 21.9 months.  Six of those were above the mean by six months, and only two of those states (Connecticut and Illinois) and the District of Columbia were above the mean by more than 12 months (Figure 5). 

Figure 5.  Average Lengths of Stay in Care of Children in Care on September 30, 2013 by State

Figure 5.  Average Lengths of Stay in Care of Children in Care on September 30, 2013 by State

A closer look at the distribution of states reveals that most states with longer lengths of stay also have lower rates of children entering the foster care system. Average lengths of stay are significantly (p<.01) and negatively correlated with the rate at which foster children enter care.  In other words, where lengths of time in care are high, there tend to be fewer children entering the system (Figure 6). This may indicate that those children who are removed from their homes are those with greater needs for services, and therefore they may tend to stay in care for longer lengths of time.

Figure 6.  Average Lengths of Stay in Care and Rate of Children Entering Care (per 1000 Child Population) by State, FY 2013

Figure 6.  Average Lengths of Stay in Care and Rate of Children Entering Care (per 1000 Child Population) by State, FY 2013

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