The number of children in the U.S. foster care system has dropped for a second year in a row, and a record number of children in the child welfare system were able to find adoptive homes, according to new federal data released Monday.
The annual report from the Department of Health and Human Services counted about 424,000 children in foster care as of Sept. 30, 2019, down from about 435,000 a year earlier.
The peak was 524,000 children in foster care in 2002. The number dropped steadily to about 396,000 in 2012 before rising again as the opioid epidemic and other forms of drug abuse began to worsen across the U.S. That surge began to wane in 2018.
The new data showed that a record 66,035 children were adopted out of the U.S. child welfare system in the 2019 fiscal year, up from 63,000 in 2017.
Just over half of the newly reported adoptions were carried out by foster parents, while members of the children’s extended family accounted for 36% of the adoptions.
“Helping youth who are in foster care find safe, loving families to call their own is the best way we can set America’s children up for success,” said Lynn Johnson, HHS’s assistant secretary for children and families.
About 20,000 youths in their late teens aged out of the system in 2019 without being placed with permanent families. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted employment and education prospects for young people, legislation has been introduced in Congress to bolster support for young adults aging out of foster care.
The number of children entering foster care in 2019 dropped to 251,000 from 263,000 the previous year.
Parental neglect was the most common reason for children to be removed from their homes in 2019 — a factor in placing about 158,260 children into foster care. About 86,690 children were removed because of parental substance abuse, down from about 94,000 in 2018.
About 8% of foster children were residing in institutions or group homes at the close of the 2019 fiscal year — down from 14% in 2015 and reflecting new policies aimed at reducing the use of so-called congregate care.