The magnitude of the state and federal safety net programs shows a strong commitment both to promote economic security for AFDC-ineligible children and to protect them long term. More specifically, the number of children in out-of-home care is at a record high. In 1997, more than five hundred thousand children in foster care were on a waiting list for adoptive homes. This compares with 144,000 in 1991, 130,000 in 1986, and more than 100,000 in 1981. The more than 99,000 children placed in preadoptive homes in 1997 stand in stark contrast to the estimated 69,000 placed in homes in 1981,44, the year when the percentage of children in out-of-home care reached an all-time high. The annual increase in the number of children in out-of-home care is also astounding. These figures add to an already all-time high number of children who remain in foster care due to parental neglect. Approximately 50,000 children remained in foster care when they turned two years old in 1997 (Fig. 6a, b). This reflects the failure of these programs to reduce the number of high-risk children who are not receiving needed services. With funding for the child welfare system also disappointing, the number of abuse and neglect cases increased more than six percent from 1996 to 1997. The 466,000 cases reflected a significant increase over the previous year, and remain the highest number on record.
d/ A review of the state and federal case files revealed that most foster children were placed in their parents' homes, only a few were in group homes, and the minority were in foster care institutions. The average length of child-caring time per child increased (Fig. 7a) from eleven months in 1953 to sixteen months in 1985 and slightly more in 1996. The total length of time children stay in care increased only slightly (Fig. 7b), however, reflecting a marked decrease in the length of care, from forty-eight months in 1960 to just twelve months in 1995. Figure 7c shows the proportion of children in care who were in out-of-home care at some point in their lives. Overall, the proportion of children in care remaining in care for life is now less than 12 percent. d2c66b5586