Change Indicator

Foster Care - September 30 snapshot by age group 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 a snapshot of the foster care population by age group, researchers are able to infer what the foster care system looks like on a typical day in terms of age demographics and track longitudinal trends associated with certain populations of children in out-of-home care. As shown in the following table, over the past decade, the proportion of youth ages 12-20 in the foster care system has been consistently decreasing while the proportion of children ages 0-11 has been increasing. This trend is likely due to increased efforts to keep older youth out of foster care, as they tend to experience the most placement instability while in the system, which has been associated with negative effects on behavioral health, social skills, and educational outcomes.[5] Since adolescents are most commonly removed from their households due to parental substance abuse or mental health problems, a focus on providing families with prevention and treatment services is thought to be a main factor in decreasing the overall rate of older 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] Sepulveda, K. & Williams, S.C. (2019). Older Youth in Foster Care Need Support to Make a Successful Transition to Adulthood. Child Trends.
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Definition and Source



The number of children of all ages placed out of home on a given day (9/30). Out-of-home placements include family foster homes, group homes, community-based placement, emergency placement, supervised independent living, and residential placement.

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 sum of the age groups will not total 'All Age Groups' due to those cases where age is unknown.

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