When a child's safety is threatened at home, foster care may be a necessary first remedy. But ensuring that time in foster care is spent in the community within a family -- and ends by moving into a permanent family -- are crucial for the long-term success of that child.
Why is This Important?
Foster care refers to a variety of living situations in which a child may be placed outside of the home because the family living situation is unsafe. Typically a child will be removed from home because of severe abuse or neglect. Once a child has entered foster care, it is important that he or she be placed in a family-based setting within the community. It is also important that the time spent in foster care be as brief as possible.
When leaving foster care, the child should be discharged to a permanent placement (i.e., returned to home, adopted, or had custody transferred to a relative). Children who age out of the foster care system -- reach the age of 18 without achieving a permanent home environment -- often face lifetime challenges, including homelessness, incarceration, and low educational attainment.
How is Virginia Doing?
Nationally, the average rate of children placed in foster care has declined from 6.9 per 1,000 children in 2004 to 5.4 in 2012. During this same period, Virginia's rate has decreased from 3.8 to 2.5 per 1,000 children -- a rate that ranks Virginia best in the nation. Per 1,000 children aged 17 and under among Virginia's peer states, Tennessee had 5.3, Maryland had 3.6, and North Carolina had 3.7 in foster care in 2012.
Within Virginia, the Northern region has consistently had the lowest rates for children in foster care, while the Southwest, West Central, and Valley regions are consistently the highest.
Virginia has been gradually improving in the percentage of children who are placed within families while in foster care, increasing from 70.6 percent in 2005 to 83.3 percent in 2012 before declining slightly to 83.0 percent in 2013. Discharges to a permanent family placement increased from 2007 to 2011, and again in 2013 to a new high of 74.4 percent.
While Virginia has a very low rate of children in foster care, it ranks first among the states in the percentage of youth (25%) who age out of foster care. In 2012, Virginia also ranked fifth to last in the average waiting time between termination of rights from original guardians and finalization of adoption. Our average wait time of 16.4 months means that children who have lost their parents spend more time in foster care, on average, than their peers in nearly ever other state. Rhode Island led the nation with an average wait time of only 4.5 months.
By law, finalization of adoption in Virginia cannot occur until 3 months after the date of adoption; the delay is to allow social workers time to observe the compatibility of the adoptive parent-child relationship. This law automatically makes Virginia's waiting time longer. Maryland, North Carolina, and Tennessee all had shorter average wait times than Virginia at 10.5 months, 9.8 months, and 6.9 months, respectively.
What Influences Foster Care?
The primary reason children come to the attention of the child welfare system is maltreatment. Child abuse and neglect are not confined to any particular socioeconomic class, race or ethnicity, or religion. However, some situations place children at greater risk for being abused or neglected, including parental history, family violence, isolation, and poverty. An important factor in avoiding foster care is the availability of effective support services to intervene when child abuse and neglect are found, so that the child does not have to be removed from the home.
Foster parents receive monthly assistance, known as maintenance payments, from the state in return for providing a home for the children they foster. Inadequate maintenance payments negatively affect foster parent recruitment and retention and have caused a shortage of family-based placement options. And when family-based options are unavailable, children are often moved from foster home to foster home or placed in group care settings.
In a 2011 comparison of Virginia and its peer states, Virginia had the lowest per-month maintenance payments for children aged 0-2 and 9-11 ($448 and $525, respectively), and the second lowest for children aged 15-17 ($666). Although foster care reimbursement rates in Virginia have been increasing since 2007, they are still lower than the recommended minimum adequate rates.
What is the State's Role?
The state plays an active role in the child welfare and foster care system, from establishing reimbursement rates to creating incentives that encourage placement in family settings instead of group care facilities. The state’s role also includes:
- Establishing a standardized Family Engagement Model and providing training to help localities engage families in decision-making
- Developing a competency-based training system that is available to all child welfare workers
- Providing assistance in the recruitment, retention, and support of foster and adoptive families to increase family-based foster care and discharges to permanency
- Assisting localities in breaking down barriers and working across child support agencies to achieve the best possible outcomes for the children and their families
- Providing localities with accurate data to help them manage their child welfare caseloads and make better-informed decisions.
State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.
Data and Definitions
Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau, Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, 2012
Rate is based on children in foster care on September 30th of year.
The number represent an unduplicated headcount of children under the age of 18 in foster care during the federal fiscal year (ended September 30).
Kids Count Data Center, Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Family Foster Care Reimbursement Rates in the U.S., Child Trends
Foster care rate. Virginia Department of Social Services
Rate is based on unduplicated headcount of children under the age of 18 in foster care during the federal fiscal year (ends September 30).
and discharges to permanency
Virginia Department of Social Services
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.