Change Indicator

Foster Care - Population flow during reporting period in Pennsylvania

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Why This Indicator Matters

Foster care, also known as out-of-home care, is a court-monitored process that involves removing children from their families following a substantiated report of abuse or neglect. [1] All child maltreatment reports are investigated by either Child Protective Services (CPS) or General Protective Services (GPS), depending on the nature of the referral, to determine the child’s safety within the household as well as the level of risk for future harm.[2] Children are typically only placed in foster care after family preservation and in-home services fail to improve their safety and well-being in the home. Out-of-home placement is often viewed as temporary, as achieving and maintaining permanency is always the primary priority of child welfare agencies, whether that be in the form of reunification with their caregivers or finding new homes with relatives or adoptive families.[3] Family issues with substance use, mental illness, or domestic abuse are among the most common factors that lead to children entering the foster care system.[4]

By examining the population flow of children being admitted and discharged each year from the foster care system, researchers are able to track longitudinal trends associated with child welfare services and note any changes in rates of in-home versus out-of-home care. From 2012 to 2018, the total population of foster children was gradually increasing and first-time admissions were outpacing the number of discharges. Since 2019, these numbers have been decreasing and more children are exiting than entering the foster care system each year in Pennsylvania. Many risk factors related to child, caregiver, family, neighborhood, and maltreatment characteristics have been associated with entry and re-entry into the foster care system. For example, analysis has found low child developmental status, caregiver depression and alcohol use, previous reports of abuse or neglect, and overall lack of social support to predict a higher risk of foster care entry.[5] Policy designed to address such risk factors can therefore reduce the population flow of children in foster care.

[1] Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2023). Overview: Out-of-Home Care. United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau.

[2] Rizvi, M. B., Conners, G. P., King, K. C., Lopez, R. A., & Rabiner, J. (2022). Pennsylvania Child Abuse Recognition and Reporting. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.

[3], [4] Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2023). Achieving & Maintaining Permanency. United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau.

[5] English, D. J., Thompson, R., & White, C. R. (2015). Predicting Risk of Entry into Foster Care from Early Childhood Experiences: A Survival Analysis Using LONGSCAN Data. Child Abuse & Neglect, 45, 57–67.

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Definition and Source



Number of children in out-of-home placement on the first day of the period, admissions and discharges during the period, number of children on the last day of the period and total number of children served during the period.

Data Source

PPC analysis of AFCARS longitudinal file produced by Public Consulting Group for Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, Office of Children, Youth and Families.


The same child can have multiple admissions and discharges during the period, but the numbers at the beginning and end of the period and the total number served are not duplicated.

S = Suppressed.  Statistics (rates, ratios, percents) are not calculated and displayed for counts less than 10 (or less than 3 for Bayesian/Nearest Neighbor rates). This is due to the unreliability of statistics based on small numbers of events.

Last Updated

April 2024