• May/June 2001
  • Vol. 2, No. 3

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Efforts to Improve State Reporting on Foster Care and Adoption Are Paying Off

How many U.S. children are in foster care? For many years, no one could answer that question with confidence. But this summer, the Department of Health and Human Services will release reliable foster care and adoption statistics from an unprecedented 49 States and the District of Columbia. (Computer problems snarled Alaska's efforts to report.)

The data were collected and analyzed through the Federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS).

"This is the best data we have ever, ever had. And it's going to get better,"said HHS Children's Bureau researcher John Hargrove.

Hargrove was one of several HHS officials who were interviewed about AFCARS for an article by Cheryl Wetzstein published in the April 30 Washington Times.

The officials attributed the success of AFCARS to new Federal laws that require States to report, new financial incentives for States, and expanded technical assistance. Better computer technology also has made a big difference. States often had the data in their in-house systems, "but they just couldn't get it out," said Terry Lewis, deputy associate commissioner of the Children's Bureau.

Penelope Maza, a senior HHS researcher, said that awarding bonuses to States for increasing adoptions from foster care strongly motivates States to collect and report data accurately. "This is an example of where, because of a Federal program, there was finally some really good reason to clean up that data. And it got cleaned up," said Maza, dubbed the HHS adoption data maven by the Times article.

Better data is an essential element in achieving better outcomes for children who enter foster care, the officials noted. Said Sally Flanzer, director of HHS' Division of Data Research and Innovation, "We're in the middle of an evidence-based, data-based revolution."

Visit the AFCARS website at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/dis/afcars/.

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