Introduction to Permanency

One of the most important outcomes that advocates can influence and support is helping the children and youth achieve permanency. With the trending increase in the number of children entering foster care, the time to react urgently to helping children find forever homes is now. The goal of foster care is to provide safe, temporary out-of-home placement while working swiftly to achieve permanency through reunification, adoption, and/or guardianship with relatives or others emotionally connected to the child. Unfortunately, too many children linger in foster care and too many never achieve legal permanence instead “aging-out” of foster care.

After declining nearly 20 percent from FY2007 to FY2012, the number of children living in foster care increased to more than 442,000 in FY2017. And while 90% of children living in foster care do leave care to permanency with families, 20,000 youth age out of foster care each year without legal, permanent connections. Most children in foster care are reunified with their parent(s) or primary caretaker (49%). A smaller percent (24) are adopted. The mean time spent in care is 19.2 months.  Most children are placed in non-relative foster family homes (45%) even though evidence points to better outcomes for children who live with relatives including more likely to reunify with their parents and more likely to achieve permanency faster. Most parents who adopt children living in foster care are the foster parents (51%), a relative (35%), or a non-relative (14%).

This is what we know about the current population of children and youth in foster care:

  • They are disproportionately African-American.  In 22 states the percent of African-American children in foster care is more than two times that of the African-American children in the overall child population.
  • They are more likely to be young. Children under age 6 represent nearly 41 percent of all children in foster care and 44 percent of all children waiting to be adopted.  Twenty-five percent of children waiting to be adopted entered foster care before their first birthday.
  • They don’t always live in the most appropriate family-like settings as required by federal law. Thirteen percent live in congregate care a significantly lower percentage as this number has declined in the last ten years from 28 percent but still concerning as the outcomes for children living in congregate are often dismal.
  • They represent a growing number of children entering foster care. The trend between 1998 and 2012 of diminishing numbers of children in foster care reversed in 2013 and continues to climb each year.