Surprising Rise in Number of Kids in Foster Care-WHY?

Dawn Davenport


dramatic increase in the number of kids in foster care

The 2014 foster care data was just released showing a dramatic increase in the numbers of children in care. The question on everyone’s mind now is why?

Data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) for 2014, the last year data is available, indicates that there was an increase in the number of kids coming into care and a decrease in the number of kids leaving care. The number of kids whose parental rights have been terminated and are currently waiting for adoption increased from 104,493 in 2013 to 107,918 in 2014.

The 2014 numbers were just released so no official explanation has been given to explain the increase.

“We are concerned about any increases in the foster care numbers, and we are working hard with our state partners to better understand the reasons behind the increase,” said Rafael Lopez, commissioner of the department’s Administration on Children, Youth and Families.

Why are the Number of Kids in Foster Care Increasing

Clearly it is too early to have any definitive answers, but we can make some educated guesses. Obviously if there has been an increase nationally in children in foster care, many states are also seeing an increase. Often it is easier to tease out reasons on the state level. Some reasons states are finding include the following.

Shift in focus from family preservation to child safety

According to some state officials there has been a shift from focusing on helping the family to retain their children to focusing on the safety of the child.

Every three or four years, we see the pendulum swing, from family preservation to child safety,” Mark Jones, CEO of the Community Partnership for Children. “I think it’s got … more to do with the focus in the media, specifically on child safety and child deaths.”

Some states, for example Florida, which also saw a sharp rise in the number of children in foster care in the last year, developed a new methodology for determining whether a child should be removed from the home. The new approach looks beyond the single incident that prompts a visit from a Child Protective Services to the likelihood of danger down the road.

Jones, from Florida’s Community Partnership for Children, states: “The more questions they’re asking, the more red flags they’re seeing, and they’re seeing that children may not be safe for the long term.”

Drug Addiction

Drug and alcohol addiction by parents is often cited as one of the main reasons children enter foster care. While there is evidence of an increase in use of opioids such as heroin, morphine, and prescription pain relievers,  I couldn’t find good information on a significant increase in drug addiction in the last several years. In fact, use of most drugs other than marijuana has stabilized over the past decade or has declined.

High Turnover in Foster Care Workers

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, turnover in foster care caseworkers and supervisory staff is a major concern in many child welfare agencies. In some jurisdictions, worker turnover is as high as 90 percent per year, while in others, turnover is fairly minimal. Turnover is due to many factors including high caseload, low pay and burnout. New inexperienced worker may be more likely to err on the side of removing children from the home.

I was not, however, able to find evidence that turnover has increased in the last several years, so it’s not clear if the inability to retain workers is contributing to the increase in kids in foster care.

Lack of Services to Help Birth Families

In some states funding for services to prevent removal of children from their biological families has declined in recent years. For example, in Florida in-home services to prevent removal have declined since a peak in 2012.

Christina Spudeas, executive director of the advocacy group Florida’s Children First, says: “The key to successfully leaving children in the home after an allegation of abuse or neglect is to have the right services provided to the family at the right time, with sufficient oversight”

Thoughts? Why do you think there was a significant rise in the number of children entering foster care?


07/10/2015 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Fostering, Fostering Blog | 8 Comments

8 Responses to Surprising Rise in Number of Kids in Foster Care-WHY?

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Google medical kidnapping. The whole system needs to be overhauled! It’s pretty scary for kids that need help and ones that are just being taken out of good loving families.

    • Avatar Greg says:

      We need to also hold parents accountable rather than enabling behavior that hurts the kids by giving them too many chances.

      • Avatar Simba says:

        Foster parents and adoptive parents never have addictions. They are never abusive or neglectful. They are usually just Pedophiles.

        • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

          It sounds like there’s a lot of painful experience behind that comment. I’m so sorry. The system is broken in many ways and yes, there are adults in it who don’t serve the purpose of the system or care well for the kids. But there are amazing foster parents and adoptive parents doing good work to heal the kids who’ve suffered trauma and neglect at the hands of other adults. “Always,” “never,” and even “usually” are broad brush strokes for the complexities of it all.

  2. Avatar Anonymous IF says:

    “According to some state officials there has been a shift from focusing on helping the family to retain their children to focusing on the safety of the child.

    “Every three or four years, we see the pendulum swing, from family preservation to child safety,” Mark Jones, CEO of the Community Partnership for Children. “I think it’s got … more to do with the focus in the media, specifically on child safety and child deaths.”

    It seems strange to me that the safety of children should ever lose out when a choice needs to be made between keeping a (dysfunctional) biological family together and ensuring that a child is in a safe and stable environment. Shouldn’t that be our number one priority at all times-the well being of children? Curioser and curiouser……..

    • Avatar Liz Beatley says:

      I suspect that the reason the pendulum swings on this issue is that, in some instances, it is very difficult to make a determination about what puts the child’s safety more at risk-removal or family preservation. In cases where children are severely neglected or physically and/or sexually abused, and the scars are there for everyone to see (broken bones, burns, low body weight, severe emotional and sexual acting out etc.), it is easier to make a determination that these children must be removed immediately. But, many cases are not that black and white. Think of families where the parent/s are addicts. When sober, they are loving parents who care for their children well. Their children love them and are very attached to them. Removal of those children is extremely traumatic and damaging for the children. However, the parent/s have a history or relapse. So, just because they are clean and sober and acting as good parents at the moment, we all know it is highly likely they will use again and put the children at risk. So, we are removing children based on educated speculation. Makes sense, but is risky.

      It is important to remember that, no matter what has happened in families, children love their birth families. And, when they are removed, they are taken from everything they know. What some people do not realize is that this is traumatic, even if things are not great at home. So, if the birth parents can get support and help that will allow their child/ren to stay with them, it is sometimes in the child’s best interest to make that happen.

      But, here is when it gets even trickier. Everyone has a different perspective of what it looks like for parents to be ready to keep their children. What qualifications do they have to meet? Do they have to work or is it acceptable to be living off government subsidy? There are plenty of families who do so and have their children. So, is it fair to say that a family is come under CPS scrutiny, must rise above that? Do they have to provide their children with well balanced, nutritious meals each day in order to keep their children? Again, many families do not do this, and have their children. So, should we make it a stipulation for families under the scrutiny of CPS? These are just a few examples. It is such a confusing and difficult situation. PBS has a movie called Tough Love that explores some of these questions. You have to contact PBS and request the movie for one week. I want to do that. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart.

      • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

        Liz, you make such good points. I will also say that it is sometimes hard to know whether there is actual abuse as well. We may not see the bruises or hear the screams. If both the parent and child deny it, how cautious should CPS be? And what about psychological abuse. And, let’s factor in poor state funding resulting in huge case loads for fewer case workers. {sigh}

      • Avatar Amy Barber says:

        Liz you are so on the mark with parents who suffer from addictions. I have seen in my own family members the most amazing parents become neglectful and absent due to their addiction. Additionally, when addiction affects both parents they can get clean and sober but when one cycles the other will likely follow. So for this reason a child may never be safe because either parent is constantly at risk. Even if it is a single parent they keep the same environment surrounded by the same associates and again it is easy to fall back into the cycle. How many single parents have the resources to pick up and move away?
        How do you measure the likelihood of relapse? How do you guarantee that even if the parents want to maintain sobriety that they will be successful in the same environment? There is no matrix for these questions. There is ONLY fact: children are in danger when parents suffer addiction. There may be an abundance of love but I have seen addiction can be a stronger force than a parent’s love. Very interesting article. Thanks Dawn for sharing and Liz for your insight.

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