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July 2002Vol. 3, No. 6Findings from Survey on Placement Indicated Wide Disparity of State Reporting

A recent report issued by the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) describes variances in how State child welfare agencies calculate placement changes and report out-of-home care populations in their submissions to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). This national survey was conducted to learn more about placement stability data comparability as reported to AFCARS.

The National Working Group to Improve Child Welfare Data (NWG), composed of State child welfare agencies and hosted by CWLA, conducted the survey. The District of Columbia and all 50 States responded to the Survey On How Placement Changes Are Calculated For AFCARS Submissions, which focused on placement changes calculations and reflected populations between April 1 and September 30, 2000.

The survey asked States to clarify how they reported placement counts and changes of placement especially. Ninety percent or more of States counted initial emergency or shelter placements, other emergency placements, and pre-adoptive placements as single-event placements. Relative placements were counted separately from non-relative placements. While still consistent with Federal guidelines, States reported considerable differences. Some States excluded respite placements (69 percent), trial home visits (82 percent), and exits from placements because a child ran away (73 percent). Sizable variation--between 59 percent and 76 percent--occurred in how States counted detention, medical hospital stays, and psychiatric hospital stays.

Diversity also was reported in population definitions. Out-of-home care populations could include youth 18 or older, youth in the custody of the juvenile justice system, children with mental health issues, children with mental retardation/developmental disabilities, children in tribal custody, children not receiving foster care maintenance payments, and children in voluntary placements and voluntary custody. Some States included "other" populations in their AFCARS data such as medically fragile children, babies or children voluntarily relinquished for adoption, and private adoptions where there was no abuse or neglect issue. A general category of children in need of services when the child welfare agency had custody was also included by some States.

The report recommended that the Federal Government clarify how information should be reported.

The report can be found online in PDF format at

Additional information about AFCARS submissions can be found on the following websites:

  • National Resource Center for Information Technology in Child Welfare (technical assistance) at
  • AFCARS at
  • Child welfare policy manual at

    Updates to AFCARS policy, including definitions, can be found at