Child Welfare and Foster Care Statistics

Child Welfare and Foster Care Statistics

Child Welfare and Foster Care Statistics
Posted May 16, 2022, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Our nation’s child wel­fare sys­tem strives to pro­tect chil­dren from mal­treat­ment, sup­port fam­i­lies in cri­sis, keep chil­dren safe­ly with their par­ents when pos­si­ble, pro­vide tem­po­rary out-of-home care for chil­dren when need­ed and ulti­mate­ly ensure that chil­dren have safe, per­ma­nent homes with their fam­i­lies, rel­a­tives, adop­tive par­ents or legal guardians. This post pro­vides the lat­est sta­tis­tics on child wel­fare in the Unit­ed States, focus­ing on fos­ter care sta­tis­tics, from the Foundation’s KIDS COUNT® Data Cen­ter , a robust source of the best avail­able data on child well-being in the nation. KIDS COUNT includes state-by-state data on child abuse and neglect and chil­dren liv­ing in out-of-home care from the Nation­al Child Abuse and Neglect Data Sys­tem, the fed­er­al Adop­tion and Fos­ter Care Analy­sis and Report­ing Sys­tem, and the Nation­al Youth in Tran­si­tion Data­base. These data help our Foun­da­tion and lead­ers across the coun­try to mon­i­tor trends, assess the child wel­fare sys­tem, and advance poli­cies and prac­tices to improve out­comes for chil­dren, youth and fam­i­lies — par­tic­u­lar­ly for chil­dren of col­or who are over­rep­re­sent­ed in the sys­tem and more like­ly to expe­ri­ence neg­a­tive outcomes.
Stay up to date with the lat­est infor­ma­tion on child wel­fare by sign­ing up for our newslet­ter and explor­ing our child wel­fare and fos­ter care resources .
Child Wel­fare by the Numbers
KIDS COUNT offers more than 60 mea­sures of child wel­fare , encom­pass­ing how many chil­dren and youth are in the sys­tem, the rates at which they enter it, their demo­graph­ic char­ac­ter­is­tics (includ­ing race and eth­nic­i­ty when avail­able) and their expe­ri­ences in fos­ter care, exit­ing care, being adopt­ed when applic­a­ble, aging out of the sys­tem and more. In addi­tion to child wel­fare sta­tis­tics at the nation­al and state lev­els, KIDS COUNT also pro­vides data by ter­ri­to­ry, when pos­si­ble. Pol­i­cy­mak­ers, child wel­fare agen­cies and oth­ers have used these data for decades to under­stand how well the sys­tem is meet­ing the needs of vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren, youth and fam­i­lies, and how it can be strength­ened so that all abused and neglect­ed chil­dren can heal and grow up with safe, sta­ble families.
Sta­tis­tics on Emo­tion­al, Behav­ioral and Health Prob­lems Linked to Child Trauma
Chil­dren and youth who expe­ri­ence trau­ma, includ­ing abuse or neglect, are at increased risk for long-term emo­tion­al, behav­ioral and phys­i­cal health prob­lems, among oth­er chal­lenges. KIDS COUNT offers scores of addi­tion­al mea­sures that describe these types of life chal­lenges for chil­dren and youth, rang­ing from high-risk behav­ior, such as juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem involve­ment and sub­stance abuse , to dif­fi­cul­ties with men­tal health, phys­i­cal health and aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance . (These data are pro­vid­ed by state and race and eth­nic­i­ty, as well as oth­er break­downs, when pos­si­ble.) Impor­tant­ly, the con­se­quences of child mal­treat­ment can be mit­i­gat­ed with equi­table access to trau­ma-informed ser­vices and nur­tur­ing, last­ing fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships and support.
Child Mal­treat­ment Trends
The like­li­hood that a child will be abused or neglect­ed in the Unit­ed States has improved slight­ly in recent years: 8 in every 1,000 kids under 18 were con­firmed vic­tims of mal­treat­ment in 2020, after hold­ing steady at 9 per 1,000 from 2015 to 2019. Of the 615,000 vic­tims in 2020, three in four expe­ri­enced neglect, con­sis­tent­ly the most com­mon type of mal­treat­ment . Near­ly one in five (16%) of these chil­dren were phys­i­cal­ly abused, 9% were sex­u­al­ly abused, 6% were emo­tion­al­ly abused and 2% expe­ri­enced med­ical neglect. Young kids are the most at risk, as 72% of ver­i­fied vic­tims were 10 and under in 2020, sim­i­lar to pre­vi­ous years.
See the Foundation’s recent Child Mal­treat­ment Trends blog for more details and links to the data, includ­ing more about the con­se­quences of child mis­treat­ment and how it can be prevented.
Fos­ter Care Statistics
Fos­ter care is meant to pro­vide safe, tem­po­rary liv­ing arrange­ments and sup­port ser­vices for chil­dren who have been removed from their fam­i­lies due to mal­treat­ment, lack of safe­ty or inad­e­quate care. The fol­low­ing selec­tion of fos­ter care sta­tis­tics from KIDS COUNT describes chil­dren who enter care, their demo­graph­ic char­ac­ter­is­tics, their liv­ing arrange­ments dur­ing fos­ter care, where they go when they exit care and the expe­ri­ences of youth who nev­er leave and age out of the sys­tem. These are crit­i­cal indi­ca­tors that can flag areas for sys­tem improve­ment, such as the dis­pro­por­tion­ate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of chil­dren of col­or and the need to bet­ter sup­port old­er youth in fos­ter care.
Learn more about the fos­ter care sys­tem in a recent Foun­da­tion blog post.
Chil­dren Enter­ing Fos­ter Care
In 2020, 213,964 chil­dren under 18 entered fos­ter care in the Unit­ed States, a rate of 3 per 1,000. The rate of entry has hov­ered at 3 or 4 per 1,000 for two decades. Kids ages 1 to 5 make up the largest share ( 30% in 2020 ) of chil­dren enter­ing care. Nation­al data also show that Black and Amer­i­can Indi­an chil­dren con­tin­ue to be over­rep­re­sent­ed among those enter­ing fos­ter care. In 2020, Black chil­dren rep­re­sent­ed 20% of those enter­ing care but only 14% of the total child pop­u­la­tion , while Amer­i­can Indi­an kids made up 2% of those enter­ing care and 1% of the child pop­u­la­tion. The rea­sons for this are com­plex , and efforts to improve racial equi­ty in child wel­fare have been under way for many years.
Explore more sta­tis­tics on chil­dren enter­ing fos­ter care, includ­ing data by state:
Chil­dren enter­ing fos­ter care by race and ethnicity
Chil­dren in Fos­ter Care
Once chil­dren enter fos­ter care, the goal is to either safe­ly reuni­fy them with their par­ents if the fam­i­ly con­cerns are resolved or secure anoth­er per­ma­nent fam­i­ly . A total of 407,493 chil­dren and youth were liv­ing in fos­ter care in 2020 , with one-third ages 1 to 5 and 7% babies , fig­ures that have been steady for years. Con­sis­tent with the inequities described above, nation­al data on chil­dren in fos­ter care illus­trate the dis­pro­por­tion­ate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Black and Amer­i­can Indi­an chil­dren , in particular.
In a pat­tern hold­ing since 2000, near­ly half of fos­ter chil­dren are placed with non­rel­a­tive fos­ter fam­i­lies ( 45% in 2020 and — in encour­ag­ing news — place­ments with rel­a­tives increased from 25% to 34% dur­ing 2000–2020, and place­ments in group homes or oth­er facil­i­ties dropped from 18% to 10%. Few­er chil­dren are placed in pre-adop­tive homes (4% in 2020) or have tri­al home vis­its (4%), and some old­er youth live inde­pen­dent­ly with super­vi­sion (2%).
More than a third of fos­ter chil­dren and youth expe­ri­ence two or more place­ments each year, mean­ing their liv­ing arrange­ments change at least twice a year. At the state lev­el in 2020, this fig­ure ranged from 24% to 49% . Child wel­fare agen­cies are work­ing to min­i­mize these moves, as they are dis­rup­tive, stress­ful and often trau­ma­tiz­ing. Sta­ble rela­tion­ships and home envi­ron­ments are crit­i­cal for healthy child and youth development.
Chil­dren liv­ing with nei­ther parent
Chil­dren Exit­ing Fos­ter Care
The lat­est data show that approx­i­mate­ly 224,396 chil­dren and youth exit fos­ter care each year and just under half (48% in 2020) are reuni­fied with their par­ent or pri­ma­ry care­tak­er, down from 57% in 2000. Adop­tions increased steadi­ly between 2014 and 2019, and decreased slight­ly in 2020 , with about one in four chil­dren exit­ing fos­ter care to adop­tive homes in the last few years. Oth­er com­mon out­comes for chil­dren and youth who can­not return to their par­ents include liv­ing with legal guardians (10% in 2020) or oth­er rel­a­tives (6%) and eman­ci­pa­tion (9%), also known as aging out of fos­ter care.
Of the more than 58,000 chil­dren in the child wel­fare sys­tem who were adopt­ed in 2020, over half were young kids age 1 to 5 , con­sis­tent with pre­vi­ous years. Most of these adop­tions are by the fos­ter par­ents (either rel­a­tives or non­rel­a­tives) who cared for the chil­dren while in fos­ter care.
Explore all sta­tis­tics about young peo­ple exit­ing fos­ter care and those who have been adopted:
by race and ethnicity
Key Find­ings From the Child Wel­fare Infor­ma­tion Gate­way on How Long Kids Stay in Fos­ter Care
The fed­er­al government’s Child Wel­fare Infor­ma­tion Gate­way sum­ma­rizes addi­tion­al fos­ter care sta­tis­tics, such as the length of time chil­dren spend in care. Their Fos­ter Care Sta­tis­tics 2020 fact­sheet showed that, unfor­tu­nate­ly, the medi­an amount of time in fos­ter care has increased over the last decade—from 13.7 months in 2009 to 15.9months in 2020, based on chil­dren who exit­ed care in each year. How­ev­er, the per­cent­age of kids who spent 5+ years in care declined between 2009 and 2020. Among chil­dren who exit­ed fos­ter care in 2020, four in 10 were there less than a year, while near­ly half(47%) spent 1 to 3 years in care and 15% stayed in fos­ter care 3+ years.
Youth Aging Out of Fos­ter Care
More than 20,000 youth left fos­ter care in 2020 with­out reunit­ing with their par­ents or hav­ing anoth­er per­ma­nent fam­i­ly home. The tran­si­tion to adult­hood is a sig­nif­i­cant and chal­leng­ing devel­op­men­tal phase of life for all young peo­ple, but youth aging out of fos­ter care on their own must face this with­out the sup­port of a sta­ble, lov­ing fam­i­ly. Many also lose access to ser­vices and sup­ports offered through the fos­ter care sys­tem. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, these youth and young adults are more like­ly to expe­ri­ence behav­ioral, men­tal and phys­i­cal health issues, hous­ing prob­lems and home­less­ness, employ­ment and aca­d­e­m­ic dif­fi­cul­ties, ear­ly par­ent­hood, incar­cer­a­tion and oth­er poten­tial­ly life­long adver­si­ties. In line with the racial inequities not­ed ear­li­er, youth of col­or are more like­ly to expe­ri­ence these chal­lenges. The tra­jec­to­ries of these young peo­ple are not guar­an­teed, how­ev­er. They can be pos­i­tive­ly influ­enced by poli­cies and prac­tices that ensure these vul­ner­a­ble youths receive cul­tur­al­ly-respon­sive, trau­ma-informed tran­si­tion ser­vices and sup­port to nav­i­gate the steps to adult­hood, achieve sta­bil­i­ty and reach their full potential.
Rec­og­niz­ing the impor­tance of focus­ing on this pop­u­la­tion, the Foun­da­tion pro­vides in-depth resources on youth aging out of fos­ter care and 30 indi­ca­tors describ­ing the chal­lenges they face as well as the sup­port they receive, includ­ing aca­d­e­m­ic, employ­ment, health, finan­cial, men­tor­ing and oth­er tran­si­tion services.
Key find­ings among youth tran­si­tion­ing out of fos­ter care:
See all sta­tis­tics on youth aging out of fos­ter care , includ­ing data by state and territory.
Oth­er Sta­tis­tics Linked to Child­hood Adver­si­ty and Trauma
When chil­dren, youth and young adults expe­ri­ence trau­ma, such as abuse, neglect or even hard­ships dur­ing fos­ter care, it can dis­rupt healthy devel­op­ment and result in last­ing neg­a­tive out­comes. Such effects may be relat­ed to behav­ioral and men­tal health issues, crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem involve­ment, edu­ca­tion and employ­ment prob­lems, chron­ic health con­di­tions and more. The risks of adverse out­comes can be reduced by pro­vid­ing buffer­ing fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty sup­ports to young people.
KIDS COUNT offers a vast array of state-by-state sta­tis­tics on these issues, with much of it avail­able by race and oth­er demo­graph­ic fac­tors, includ­ing data on:
Safe­ty and risky behav­iors , such as youth resid­ing in juve­nile deten­tion facil­i­ties, and teens abus­ing alco­hol or using cig­a­rettes, mar­i­jua­na and oth­er drugs
Men­tal and phys­i­cal health prob­lems, such as young adults feel­ing depressed or hope­less, and health con­di­tions (e.g., obe­si­ty, asth­ma and spe­cial health care needs)
Aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ment and relat­ed issues, for exam­ple, test scores, house­hold inter­net ser­vices, school dis­ci­pline, stu­dents miss­ing school, stu­dents not com­plet­ing high school, teens nei­ther work­ing nor in school, and much more
Youth and young adult well-being , over­all, span­ning 60+ mea­sures of employ­ment, pover­ty, edu­ca­tion, health, and fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty issues
Learn More About Child Wel­fare in the Unit­ed States
Recent Reports and Resources on Child Wel­fare and Fos­ter Care
The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion has been pub­lish­ing resources and devel­op­ing new solu­tions to sup­port vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren and fam­i­lies for more than two decades. Resources like the fol­low­ing reports help child wel­fare agen­cies, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and advo­cates improve the child wel­fare system:
Inte­grat­ing Pos­i­tive Youth Devel­op­ment and Racial Equi­ty, Inclu­sion and Belong­ing Approach­es Across the Child Wel­fare and Jus­tice Sys­tems : Devel­oped in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Child Trends and Child Focus, this report intro­duces the STRENGTH frame¬work, which builds on young adults’ assets, address­es their devel­op­men­tal needs and advances com­mu­ni­ty-based solu­tions that reduce or avoid fam­i­ly separation.
Too Many Teens: Pre­vent­ing Unnec­es­sary Out-of-Home Place­ment : Learn from mod­el com­mu­ni­ties that have sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduced teens enter­ing the child wel­fare and juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems by offer­ing high-qual­i­ty screen­ing and assess­ment and time­ly access to appro­pri­ate ser­vices. Strong lead­er­ship, flex­i­ble, sus­tain­able fund­ing and col­lab­o­ra­tion among child-serv­ing agen­cies are also key factors.
Eval­u­a­tion of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s On the Front­line Ini­tia­tive : Learn about the expe­ri­ences of child wel­fare agen­cies in two coun­ties — Cuya­hoga Coun­ty in Ohio and Jef­fer­son Coun­ty in Col­orado — that began imple­ment­ing this ini­tia­tive to help case­work­ers and their super­vi­sors make bet­ter inves­tiga­tive deci­sions about pro­tect­ing chil­dren and strength­en­ing families.
Putting Fam­i­ly First : Learn the whys and hows of pre­ven­tive ser­vices under the Fam­i­ly First Pre­ven­tion Ser­vices Act and the process of devel­op­ing a strong prac­tice mod­el that aligns with the law’s require­ments and pro­vides tar­get­ed sup­port for chil­dren at risk of child wel­fare place­ment and their families.
Read more of the Foundation’s wide-rang­ing resources on child wel­fare and fos­ter care topics:

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