New Data Will Benefit Foster Children and Adoptive Families

December 14, 2016
a young boy and girl wearing hats walking down a dirt road

Stevi Steines and Jenny Wood, Chief Deputies, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families

New regulations recently published by the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families will provide a more comprehensive understanding of the experience of children and families in foster care, adoption, and legal guardianship. These regulations improve data collection for the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). This is the first change to the system since 1993.

AFCARS data is submitted by state and tribal child welfare agencies twice a year. It currently includes demographics of children who have been removed from their homes, when and why a child entered out-of-home care, and characteristics of foster care, guardianship, and adoptive placements. The data is used to develop national policies, determine funding, and review and analyze current programs.

Over the next two years, and with the help of the Children’s Bureau, state and tribal agencies will start collecting new and better data across several areas.

Foster Youth Experiences Over Time

Data will now be collected about children in foster care over multiple months and years, not only at a specific point in time. This will help policymakers better understand the reasons for a child’s placement in foster care, their living arrangements, and their permanency plans.

American Indian and Alaskan Native Children

Data related to experience of American Indian /Alaskan Native children covered under  Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) will be collected for the first time since the enactment of the law in 1978. This will provide new insights about Indian children and may help address the overrepresentation of Indian children in foster care.   

Child Wellbeing

New information will be collected about siblings, education, as well as the health, behavioral or mental health needs of youth in foster care.

Circumstances of Entry into Foster Care

More comprehensive data will be available on the circumstances that contribute to children being removed from their homes. This could include homelessness, inadequate access to physical or mental health services, parental substance use, parental deportation or detainment based on immigration status, and family conflicts related to sexual orientation and gender identity. 


The inclusion of data on families formed through legal guardianship further reinforces federal recognition and appreciation of all families who provide permanent homes to children. Legal guardians are often relatives who step up to care for their nieces and nephews, grandsons and granddaughters.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system — studies by the UCLA Williams Institute Visit disclaimer page estimate that over 18% of foster youth identify as LGBTQ and indicate that same-sex couples are more than six times more likely to adopt than their heterosexual counterparts. New information on sexual orientation and gender identity of youth in foster care and adoptive parents nationwide will help to address the unique needs of LGBTQ youth and families.

The data collected by this program has a direct impact on the lives of children and families. Recent AFCARS data show that after declining more than 20% between 2006 and 2012 to a low of 397,000, in 2015 the number of children in foster care increased to 428,000. AFCARS data also suggests that parental substance use is a contributing factor in this increase of foster care numbers. This information has helped generate new investments and resources to help families and children impacted by substance use and addiction.

The enhanced AFCARS data will enhance the safety, permanency, and well-being of the children and families we serve. The new rule is an important step in making smarter, data-driven decisions and assisting States and Tribes in their efforts to deliver more effective and equitable child welfare services. 

Read the new rule on the Federal Register Visit disclaimer page .

Learn more about the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families.

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