NEW YORK (AP) — After dropping sharply between 2005 and 2012, the number of children in the U.S. foster care system has increased for a third year in a row, according to new federal data released Thursday. A major factor: Worsening substance abuse by parents.
The annual report from the Department of Health and Human Services tallied 427,910 children in the foster care system as of September 30, 2015, up from about 414,429 a year earlier. The peak was 524,000 children in foster care in 2002, and the number had dropped steadily to about 397,000 in 2012 before rising again.
According to the report, the foster care population rose in 2015 in nearly three quarters of the states, with the largest increases in Florida, Indiana, Georgia, Arizona and Minnesota.
“The national number of children in foster care is still far below where it was 10 years ago, but any increase is cause for concern,” said Mark Greenberg, HHS acting assistant secretary for children and families.
Seeking to explain the increase, HHS said parental substance abuse was cited as factor in 32.2 percent of the 2015 cases in which a child was removed from home — up from 28.5 percent in 2012.
Officials at HHS’s Administration on Children, Youth and Families interviewed child welfare directors in states experiencing the highest increases in foster care numbers, and were told that a rise in parental abuse of opioids and methamphetamine was a major factor.
The state officials said substance abuse is sometimes affecting entire extended families and neighborhoods, often making a child’s placement with relatives unfeasible.
“Investing in prevention, treatment and innovative approaches is critical to keeping children safe and families together and strong,” said Rafael Lopez, commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families. “We can, and must, do better.”
Of the children in foster care a year ago, 52 percent were boys. Twenty-one percent were Hispanic, 24 percent black and 43 percent white. Just under 103,000 of them were available for adoption.
During the 2015 fiscal year, 52,931 children were adopted from foster care, roughly the same as in 2014, while 20,789 youths in their late teens aged out of the system without being placed with a permanent family.