, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 309-335

The foster care crisis: What caused caseloads to grow

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Foster care caseloads more than doubled from 1985 to 2000. This article provides the first comprehensive study of this growth by relating state-level foster care caseloads to state-specific characteristics and policies. We present evidence that increases in female incarcerations and reductions in cash welfare benefits played dominant roles in explaining the growth in foster care caseloads over this period. Our results highlight the need for child welfare policies designed specifically for the children of incarcerated parents and parents who are facing less generous welfare programs.

We thank Rebecca Blank for providing us with data on welfare caseloads, Patricia Shapiro for providing us with data on foster care caseloads from the 1980s, Jim Ziliak for providing us with welfare benefit data, Brandon Langley and Matthew Tarleton for excellent research assistance, Roberta Williams for creating the map, and Christopher Ruhm for helpful comments and discussions. All errors are our own.