Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 2000. PF 2.3 Children Living in Foster Care (9)

01/01/2000

A child is placed in foster care when a court determines that his or her family cannot provide a minimally safe environment. This determination often follows an investigation by a state or county child protective services worker. Placement most commonly occurs either because a member of a household has physically or sexually abused a child or because a child’s caretaker(s) has severely neglected the child. In some cases, children with severe emotional disturbances may also be put into foster care.

Since both federal and state laws discourage removal of children from their families unless necessary to ensure a child’s safety, placement in foster care is an extreme step taken only when a child is in immediate danger or when attempts to help the family provide a safe environment have failed; thus, the frequency of placements in foster care is an indicator of family dysfunction that is so severe that a child cannot remain safely with his or her family

The number of children in foster care rose sharply from 262,000 in 1982 to 560,000 in 1998 (see Table PF 2.3). As shown in Figure PF 2.3, the rate of children living in foster care (i.e., the number of children in foster care per 1,000 children under age 18) also rose dramatically during the same time period, from 4.2 per 1,000 children under age 18 in 1982 to 8.0 per 1,000 in 1998.

Table PF 2.3 Number and rate (per 1,000) of children in the United States living in foster care: 1982-1998

  1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996a 1997 1998
Total number (in thousands) 262 269 276 276 280 300 340 383 400 414 427 445 468 483 507 537 560
Rate 4.2 4.3 4.3 4.3 4.5 4.8 5.4 6.0 6.2 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.9 7.0 7.3 7.7 8.0

Note: Estimate of total is the number of children in foster care on the last day of the fiscal year.

a 1996 was the last year in which data on foster care were collected through the Voluntary Cooperative Information System (VCIS). The Administration on Children and Families (ACF) has implemented the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) as a replacement for VCIS. While VCIS was a voluntary reporting system, states are required to participate in AFCARS and must use uniform definitions. Most importantly, AFCARS collects case-level foster care data. Estimates in this table may not be comparable to estimates provided in previous issues of Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth due to the population estimates provided by the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

Sources: Estimate of children in foster care for 1997 and 1998 from special analysis by John Gavdiosi, Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau, 1999; estimates of children in foster care for years 1982-1996 from Tashio Tatara, 1995, and 1997; population estimates for 1982-1990 from U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1996; population estimates for 1990-1998 from Population Estimates Program, Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau, Table ST-99-9.

 


Figure PF 2.3 Children in the United States living in foster care (rate per 1,000 children): 1982-1998

Figure PF 2.3 Children in the United States living in foster care (rate per 1,000 children): 1982-1998

Note: Estimate of total is the number of children in foster care on the last day of the fiscal year.

a 1996 was the last year in which data on foster care were collected through the Voluntary Cooperative Information System (VCIS). The Administration on Children and Families (ACF) has implemented the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) as a replacement for VCIS. While VCIS was a voluntary reporting system, states are required to participate in AFCARS and must use uniform definitions. Most importantly, AFCARS collects case-level foster care data. Estimates in this table may not be comparable to estimates provided in previous issues of Trends in the Well-Being of America’s Children and Youth due to changes in the population estimates provided by the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

Sources: Estimate of children in foster care for 1997 and 1998 from special analysis by John Gavdiosi, Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau, 1999; estimates of children in foster care for years 1982-1996 from Tatara, 1995, and 1997, no. 13; population estimates for 1982-1990 from U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1996; population estimates for 1990-1998 from Population Estimates Program.


9 For purposes of this report, “foster care” is defined as a living arrangement where a child resides outside his or her own home, under the case management and planning responsibility of a state child welfare agency. These living arrangements include relative and nonrelative foster homes, group homes, child-care facilities, emergency shelter care, supervised independent living, and nonfinalized adoptive homes.

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