HUNTINGTON — While the number of American children in foster care appears to be declining nationally, many states, including Ohio, are relying more on congregate care, according to new data compiled by the Chronicle For Social Change.
The Chronicle, a nonprofit news outlet focusing on child welfare and juvenile justice, launched its “Who Cares: A National Count of Foster Families and Homes” reporting project in 2017, collecting data on who is in foster care and where they are placed from each state and the federal government.
Between 2011 and 2017, federal data showed an increase of 8% in the number of children living in foster care. Federal officials — like state officials — have attributed the rise to the opioid epidemic.
Based on the Chronicle’s projections from data collected directly from states, the number of youths in care either plateaued or declined very slightly between 2017 and 2018. And this year, the 2019 count has the number of youths in care just below 430,000, about a 3% decline since 2017.
West Virginia is not seeing the same decline as the nation just yet. The Chronicle predicts West Virginia will end 2019 with 7,084 children in care, an almost 10% increase from 2018’s projection.
Kentucky is also not seeing a decline, with the Chronicle projecting the state will end 2019 with 9,739 children in care, a nearly 8% increase over 2018.
Ohio, however, is seeing a slight decline after an increase of more than 1,000 children from 2017 to 2018. The Chronicle projects Ohio will end 2019 with 16,045 children in care, a less than 1% decrease from 2018.
Ohio, though, is among 10 states that have seen a 20% or more increase in the number of children in congregate care since 2011. The state has also increased the number of foster homes and the number of family members caring for children, but the increase in reliance on congregate care may be an issue now that the Family First Prevention Services Act is in effect.
The act is the federal government’s push to keep more children in their homes by providing more funding for preventative measures if a family is in crisis. It shifts funding away from congregate care, only providing states with funding for two weeks in congregate care. Exceptions to this limit will be made for settings designed for clinical treatment, youths older than 18, pregnant or parenting teens, and youths at risk of sex trafficking.
West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, like most of the nation, all saw an increase in relatives opening their homes to their kin.
Forty states saw an increase in the number of youths living with relatives between 2011 and 2017, and 30 of those states saw an uptick of 40% or more.
In 2017, there were 24 states where more than a third of children lived with relatives. Just six years earlier, only six states could make that claim.
In Kentucky, only 5% of youths were placed with relatives in 2017, compared to 21% in Ohio and 22% in West Virginia.
States are also relying more on families who receive no support financially when they are placed with a child. The number of youths living in a home without a foster payment attached went up 32% between 2011 and 2017, from 81,838 to 108,426.
Ohio and Missouri are tied for the second-highest percentage of kids living with relatives who receive no support at 46%. West Virginia has 18%, while Kentucky reported just8%, a reduction of 4% from 2015 to 2017.
It’s expected the need for kinship caregivers will only increase as states move toward Family First. It is expected that in some instances, kin will be asked to step in on a short-term, informal basis to care for kids while parents get necessary services.
All the data can be found at www.fostercarecapacity.com.