WASHINGTON – A record number of children in foster care are being adopted, partly a reflection of the continuing toll of the opioid crisis but also of efforts in many states to promote adoptions.
In fiscal 2018, the latest year for which data are available, more than 63,000 kids were adopted from foster care, up nearly a quarter from fiscal 2014. That number was a record, according to the U.S. Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS).
At the same time, the share of children leaving foster care for adoption increased, from 21% in fiscal 2014 to more than 25% in 2018.
Adoptive parents are most interested in babies and toddlers, and 50% of the foster care children who were adopted in fiscal 2018 were under age 5.
On the one hand, the increase in adoptions is good news, child welfare experts say. Children do best when they remain in a stable household, instead of being bounced from one foster family to another or placed in a group home. When it’s not safe for them to be with their biological parents, the next best option is a home with adoptive parents.
On the other hand, the spike in adoptions is another sign of the chaos wrought by the opioid crisis. In the past decade, thousands of kids whose parents are struggling with addiction to opioids or other drugs — or whose parents have died from overdoses — have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care, which has increased the adoption numbers.
“If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of substance abuse, there wouldn’t be enough work,” said David Gooding, a judge overseeing child welfare cases in the Fourth Circuit Court of Florida.
For the first time since fiscal 2012, the number of children in foster care in the United States declined slightly in 2018, to 437,000. That’s a 6% increase from the number of children in foster care in fiscal 2010, before the opioid crisis escalated.
But the increase over the past decade has been much more dramatic in the states hit hardest by the opioid epidemic. In Ohio, for example, the number of children in foster care increased by nearly 32% between fiscal 2010 and 2018, to nearly 16,000, according to AFCARS data. During that same time, adoptions from foster care increased by 9%, to nearly 1,600.
Meanwhile, fewer children are being reunited with their parents and primary caretakers when they leave foster care. In fiscal 2011, 52% of children leaving foster care (126,000) were reunited with their parents or primary caretakers, according to AFCARS data. With the opioid epidemic, that percentage has declined to 49% in fiscal 2018.
One bright spot has been an uptick in the number of adoptions of kids such as sibling groups and teens, who are harder to place.