The number of children in foster care in the region has declined by 45 percent over the last eight years, says a new report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG).
According to the Annual Report on Foster Care, 4,601 children were in foster care in the region in 2008, compared to 2,549 among 943 foster homes reported at the end of 2016. The report attributes this decline to the “aggressive” use of family preservation and diversion programs by the area’s child welfare agencies. More than 1,300 families received family preservation services in 2016, diverting thousands of children from the system.
African American children are overrepresented in the system, making up 64 percent of the region’s foster care population. According to the report, agencies are focused on better understanding and addressing this issue, and are continually working to recruit culturally competent foster parents. For comparison, COG reports that metropolitan Washington’s population is 57 percent Caucasian, 28 percent Black or African American, 11 percent Asian, Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander, 1 percent American Indian, and 16 percent Hispanic.
Fifty-six percent of the children in the system are 11 years old or above, with older teens aged 16-21 making up the majority age group. In addition, just as many children aged out of foster care (243) in the region than were adopted (244) in 2016. Children age-out of the system on their 18th or 21st birthday—a type of exit that jurisdictions around the region hope to reduce. COG and area jurisdictions are focused on creating opportunities for this vulnerable population of youth. For example, COG’s Youth Emerging Successfully (Y.E.S.) Program provides networking and soft-skills training for youth aging out of the foster care system and entering college. The Trailblazer Fund has provided over $10,000 dollars in scholarship funds to older youth since its inception in 2015.
Annual Report on Foster Care: An Update on the Status of Vulnerable Children and Families in Metropolitan Washington
COG’s Child Welfare Program