Wednesday, March 20, 2024

AFCARS report is out at last: At first glance, the numbers are encouraging

At long last the federal government has released state and national foster care statistics for the year ending September 30, 2022.  Yes, 2022.  Instead of being a year behind, as usual, this time they’re nearly a year-and-a-half behind. 

But for what it’s worth, it appears that, slowly but surely, the pressure on systems to stop tearing apart families needlessly is starting to make a real difference – with one crucial caveat: We don’t know how much of the decline in the latest figures is real and how much represents “diversion” into hidden foster care; entries which states supposedly don’t have to report.  (It’s not clear if they’re violating regulations the federal government won’t enforce or if the states actually have found a loophole.) 

But with that caveat: 

Officially reported entries into foster care over the course of Federal Fiscal Year 2022 reached the lowest level since the federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) started counting in 1999.  But children still were torn from their homes 187,000 times.  That’s down 20,000 from FFY 2021.  It's a nearly 40% decline from the worst year on record, 2005, when children were taken more than 307,000 times.

The snapshot number of children in foster care on any given day, also declined, from 392,000 on Sept. 30, 2021 to 369,000 one year later. 

The report also includes some new caveats about methodology.  But the in-care numbers are sufficiently close to data gathered by The Imprint to suggest that, aside from the hidden foster care issue, the figures may be close to the mark. 

A preliminary look at the state-by-state data indicate, as expected, that most states saw fewer children taken away (again, assuming they were not simply sent to hidden foster care).  But children in Georgia and Louisiana were victims of foster-care panic - sharp sudden spikes in removals of children after high-profile child abuse deaths.  

This was not the result of explicit scapegoating of family preservation in either state.  Unfortunately, the rush to take away children has become the knee-jerk response to such tragedies - and, because foster-care panics further overload systems, they only make it likely that there will be more such tragedies.  There also was a tragic spike in removals in Maine - and that is due to demagoguery by public officials.

Fortunately, more and more places are starting to understand that when we curb needless foster care, children get safer!  Let’s keep the momentum going.