Change Indicator

Foster Care - Total and first-time entries 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 of children being admitted and discharged each year from the foster care system, researchers are able to track longitudinal trends and changes associated with out-of-home care. From 2012 to 2018, the total population and number of first-time entries was gradually increasing in Pennsylvania, but since 2019 these numbers have been on the decline. 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 number of children entering 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



Total number of children who entered foster care placement during the reporting period.  This total includes those children who entered foster care for the first time.  The first time entries and the percent of total entries are also provided.

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.


Counts can be duplicated because a child can enter placement more than one time during the reporting period.  First time entries are unduplicated.

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