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Decline in Florida, Nat’l Foster Youth Stats Good News – But More Work Remains

September 4th, 2010   No Comments   Funding, News & Events

When the number of U.S. children in foster care drops 20 percent over the past decade – and 8 percent in one year, the figures lead caregivers, administrators, advocates and children’s rights attorneys to cite positive changes in the foster care system.

From Florida to New York to California, foster care enrollment – and how long kids are spending in the system – is dropping, according to statistics from the U.S. Health and Human Services Administration’s annual Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System report.

“This is very good news. The statistics and results show how concerted, collaborative efforts by various organizations and caregivers can really make a difference in the lives of so many children,” said Howard Talenfeld, a child advocacy attorney and president of Florida’s Children First. The statewide organization fights for improvements in foster care and children’s issues.

Statistics show some 423,773 children were in foster care nationwide as of Sept. 30, down from 460,416 the year prior. A decade ago, some 540,000 were in foster care. Moreover, average length of stay in foster care has dropped. Since 2002, it’s been reduced by more than 10 percent, with the mean stay now at 26.7 months.

Other numbers offer similar hope. The number of children placed needlessly in foster care has declined 6.5 percent over the past year, and is down 17 percent since a peak in 2005, according to the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. Even reports of substantial abuse have dropped from a 1993 peak, the organization reported.

The causes are plentiful and promising. Some credit widespread reforms. Others point to policy and practice changes among state and local child welfare agencies. Some highlight faster adoptions. All laud improved preventive programs for troubled youths and families. These initiatives seek to keep kids from being removed from their homes at all.

A federal law – the 2008 Fostering Connections Act – has helped lower numbers. The Act provides federal aid where it wasn’t possible before: To help children who leave foster care to live with relatives other than their parents.

Much work remains. The number of foster kids “aging out” or reaching 18 years – and still without a permanent family – rose to almost 30,000 in 2008 from 19,000 in 1999, the study revealed. The financial issues those young adults face – including the current economy and tough job market – lowering that figure remains a priority.

“The numbers show that there’s still a tough road ahead,” Talenfeld continued. “Thirty thousand aging out, 26 months in foster care, and 423,000 kids all are figures that simply are too high. A renewed focus on improved parenting and bolstering stable and safe households will help us continue these very positive gains.

“However, we cannot declare victory based upon these statistics alone. We must be aware that the states’ systems for protective services systems must vigilantly monitor and protect the families and children needing services or there may be serious injuries or even tragic deaths of unprotected children.”

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