2007 Jordan Institute
12, No. 2
North Carolina Foster Care by the Numbers
To update your knowledge, this article compares North Carolina to the nation in a few key areas related to foster care.
How Many Kids are in Care?
In 2004 North Carolina had the 16th largest foster are population in the U.S., with the children in care in our state representing 2% of all the kids in foster care nationally. In that same year just four states (California, New York, Florida, and Texas) were responsible for 35.5% of the foster care population—more than one out of every three children in care in the country (Pew, 2005).
Cause for Concern?
North Carolina does not reflect this trend. As the figure below illustrates, since 2003 the number of children in care in our state has increased each year. In February 2007 there were 11,436 children in North Carolina in foster care (NCDSSa, 2007).
This increase in the number of North Carolina children in foster care is puzzling if you consider that during this same period the number of children receiving involuntary child welfare services in our state actually decreased. As Figure 2 illustrates, the combined number of maltreatment substantiations and findings of “services needed” has declined since state fiscal year (SFY) 2002-2003.
Because the decision to place children in foster care is made on a case-by-case basis, it would not be accurate to assume that a decline in mandatory services would necessarily result in a decline in the number of children placed in foster care. However, the fact that North Carolina’s numbers are going up while overall U.S. numbers are going down does raise some questions. Are families in North Carolina struggling with more severe issues than other families nationwide? Has something changed in our child welfare system that would affect foster care placement?
At present we do not have a comprehensive explanation, but it is something the Division of Social Services is working to understand. We encourage readers and their agencies to reflect on this issue as well, and to ask questions such as: How do your agency’s foster care placement rates compare with the state’s? If they follow the same general upward trend, why do you think that is?
We believe that foster care placement is a necessary and helpful intervention for many families. But we also know that if it is unwarranted this intervention can cause harm. We owe it to families to monitor our numbers to make sure that our agencies act appropriately to achieve positive outcomes.
Where Are Kids Placed?
North Carolina resembles the nation when it comes to where children are placed. For example, of the 6,074 children who entered foster care in SFY 2005-06, 46% were initially placed in non-relative foster family homes and 26% entered kinship care. Figure 3 provides more detail (NCDSS, 2007d).
How Long Do Kids Stay?
Data from the Division (NCDSS, 2007c) tell us that the 5,262 North Carolina children who entered foster care during SFY 02-03 left care at the following rates:
• 47% left foster care before one year elapsed:
• 13% left foster care between two and three years
• 14% remained in care after three years
Where Do They Go?
According to federal data (USDHHS, 2006), the outcomes for North Carolina children leaving foster care in 2003 were similar, although children in our state were more likely to leave care through guardianship (11%) and adoption (23%) than the national average.
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