Breaking down the numbers for kids in foster and kinship care: Strategic Framework

This is part of our blog series for Texas 2036’s Strategic Framework, which provides in-depth, cross-cutting data to inform key decisions about the most significant issues facing the state.

In 2020, three out of every 1,000 kids in the United States were living in foster care. Of those approximately 214,000 children in foster care, 7% live in Texas. Unfortunately, we know that when children end up in foster care, as opposed to kinship placements, their well-being suffers. 

This is why Protection for the Vulnerable is Goal No. 24 in the Strategic Framework for Texas 2036. It is imperative to ensure that vulnerable Texans are protected from traumatic events. Our data for this examines kids who have experienced two or more adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, which are stressful events that happen between birth and age 17. 

The adverse childhood experiences that we track are: 

  1. Difficulty for family’s income to cover basic necessities; 
  2. Parent or guardian divorced or separated;
  3. Parent or guardian died;
  4. Parent or guardian served time in jail;
  5. Saw or heard parents or adults in the home slap, hit, kick and/or punch one another in the home;
  6. Was a victim of violence or witnessed violence in neighborhood;
  7. Lived with anyone who was mentally ill, suicidal or severely depressed;
  8. Lived with anyone who had a problem with alcohol or drugs; and,
  9. Treated or judged unfairly due to race and/or ethnicity.

The amount of Texan children, not just foster children, who had two or more adverse childhood experiences in 2020 was 19%. A common theme among many of these adverse childhood experiences occur where a child lives and what a child sees in their home environment. This is why we use time in foster care as a leading indicator of progress toward our goal, as children are usually placed in a foster home after facing one or multiple adverse childhood experiences.

Our data shows:

  • Kids are living in various foster homes or facilities for an average of about 18 months.
  • While the numbers are close, males are living in foster care more often than females.
  • The plurality of these children are hispanic: 41% in 2020.
  • The largest age group is 1-5 years old: 38% in 2020. 

There are about the same amount of kids in foster homes as in kinship placements in Texas. The difference between foster homes and kinship placements is that foster homes are ready and available to any child in need and do not have a preexisting relationship with the child beforehand. Kinship placements are usually new to the system and are only taking in a child because they know them personally. They also usually involve a close family member but can also apply to friends of the family, often referred to as fictive kin.

A 2014 study found that kids placed in kinship care:

  • Are more likely to remain with siblings;
  • Stay in homes with a higher likelihood of permanency and ability to maintain connections with immediate and extended family;
  • Experience and perpetuate lower rates of abuse and re-abuse; and, 
  • Display better behavioral and mental health.

Yet, Texas pays foster families significantly more than kinship placements. Basic level foster families receive $27.07 per day and intense level foster families receive $92.43 per day. Kinship placements receive only $12.67 per day. Kids in foster homes also often move more frequently than when placed with family. Nearly 40% of kids in foster homes moved at least twice in 2020. 

While not every adverse childhood experience can be completely prevented, Texas’ response to protecting the vulnerable should focus on preventing further adverse childhood experiences from occurring and ensuring kids have the safest and most stable home environment available, whether that is a foster home or kinship placement. Texas should consider paying kinship families an equal level as basic level foster families to allow as many children as possible to stay with people they know and provide fair compensation for kinship placements to financially support these children.