Foster Care Awareness Month: Make Sure All Kids are Counted

May is Foster Care Awareness Month, and this year our children, youth and families in care are facing so many additional challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic. As we look at policy investment and practice with an eye toward their needs, it is critical that we take every opportunity to learn more about their situations. Sometimes, because of the complexity and changing nature of their living arrangements, young people in care are difficult to track. As 2020 Census count efforts continue this spring and into the summer, it is important that we are including all children, youth and families, regardless of where they are living, and who they are living with. Leaving anyone out of Census counts leaves them out of investment decisions for nearly every program funded by local, state, and federal funds, as well as decisions about representation in the government leadership that will be directing those investments for years to come.

Populations that tend to be undercounted in the Census Bureau counts every ten years have been well documented. Families that the Census Bureau considers to be “complex” are one of these groups. Complex households include those in which more than one family lives together, households that include grandparents or other relatives, foster families, and households in which children live with nonrelatives. Many caregivers through the foster system or formal and informal kin often leave off children and youth in their care because they just aren’t sure who to include.

As we serve more and more “complex” households who have taken the important step of filling out their Census form, but maybe confused about who they should count, here are a few important tips from the Census Bureau:

  • Count all children, no matter their age or relationship to the person completing the census. Biological children, stepchildren, adopted children, foster children, grandchildren, and children in joint custody arrangements should all be counted.
  • Children should be counted where they live or sleep most of the time, even if their parents do not live there or the children are not related to the person completing the census.
    Children who split time between more than one home should be counted where they live or sleep most of the time. If time is split equally, children should be counted where they stayed on April 1.
  • For children who do not have a permanent place to live, count them where they were staying on April 1, even if they are only staying there temporarily.
  • If a child has recently moved or will soon move to a new home, count the child where he or she lived on April 1.
  • First and foremost, everyone needs to fill out the Census. And when Census forms are being filled out during Foster Care Awareness Month online or by mail, let’s make sure caregivers of all kinds are counting all of the infants, toddlers, children, and youth they take care of.

Michele Corey is Michigan’s Children’s Vice President for Programs