OKLAHOMA CITY --The average daily number of Oklahoma children in out-of-home foster care has dropped below 7,000 for the first time in more than three years. September's number was reported at 6,902, Department of Human Services figures released Tuesday show. It marked the sixth-straight monthly decline. The last time the figure was below 7,000 was July 2005, when the foster care population report was at 6,974. The number peaked at 7,883 in May 2007. Department officials cited several reasons for the decline, including an increase in the state's adoption rate, reduction in the length of stay for children in state foster care and emphasis on prevention programs that assist families. About 11,000 Oklahoma children have been adopted in the past 10 years, including about 1,500 in fiscal 2008, DHS Communications Director George Johnson said. The length of stay in custody also has dropped significantly, from 37 months in 1999 to 21.6 months in March 2008. Larry Johnson, director of DHS' Field Operations Division, said, "There is a real focus on the best interest of the child across the department and all staff are working on our mission of helping families help themselves lead safer, healthier, more independent and productive lives." Sheryl Marseilles, interim state director for the Oklahoma Court Appointed Special Advocates Association, credited the child welfare system's shift in strategy, which creates a plan for children to go back home and puts an alternative plan in place if the child can't go home. "This was all put in place several years ago," she said, "and it takes time for the system to kind of catch up and see results." Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.