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DATA SPOTLIGHT: Policies Influencing the Foster Care System

Overview of Foster Care in Indiana

Between 2012 and 2018, the total number of Indiana children in foster care increased at one of the highest rates in the United States. Across those years, the number of children in foster care in Indiana rose 68%, the third-highest rate of increase in the nation. When looking at placements per 1,000 children age 0-17, Indiana has consistently ranked among the top five states for foster care placements, far higher than neighboring states and the nation. According to the Indiana Department of Child Services, the number of children in foster care at some point steadily increased from 2014 before peaking in 2018 and declining in2019 and 2020. The steep decline of about 4,000 foster youth between 2019 and 2020 could be due to the impact of COVID-19.

Reasons for Foster Care Placements in Indiana

In addition to having higher rates of children in foster care than most other states, Indiana also has had higher rates of children referred to child protection. Federal data from 2019 showed that Indiana had a rate of 112.9 referrals per 1,000 children, the fifth-highest among states for which data was reported (44, including DC), and one of only six states with a rate higher than 100 referrals per 1,000 children. Indiana’s 2019 screen-in rate (the percent of referrals that met the criteria for investigation) was 68%, compared to 59% nationally, and Indiana’s rate of investigation or assessment per 1,000 children in 2019 was 94.3, much higher than the national rate of 47.2 and exceeding the rates of all neighboring states.

  • Neglect is by far the most common type of maltreatment reported – in 2019, neglect was reported as a reason for 87% of referrals to DCS, and 91% of reasons for foster care placement.
  • The second most common reason for placement was parental substance use (60%), followed by parental incarceration and inadequate housing (each 19%).
  • In 2019, the percent of removals in Indiana due to parental substance use was far higher than the national rate (60% vs. 38%) and was fifth among states (behind only Alaska, Texas, Utah, and Iowa).
  • The opioid epidemic has been identified as one reason for increases in children removed from homes and placed in foster care, especially in the years between 2012 and 2017. Indiana saw a rise in parental substance misuse as a factor in removal – the total number of children removed in Indiana increased by 53% from 2014 to 2017, while the number removed for parent substance misuse increased by 89% in the same period. By 2017, 67% of removals were due to parental substance misuse. This number has declined but still represented 61% of removals in 2020.