How Many Children Are There in the Foster Care System?

The US is currently facing a long-time increase in the number of children living in foster care.

Jennifer Galan August 27, 2016
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The United States is currently facing a long-time increase in the number of children living in foster care, but the information isn’t as cut-and-dried as it seems.

We rely on data from two years ago—so the numbers from the most recent report in 2014 are what we use to compile averages and set budgets and allocate help.

All states are required to enter all information through a reporting system entitled the Federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. This system tracks all persons who enter in, out (through adoption or emancipation), and are served in any way. Basically it takes two years to compile and analyze the sheer quantity of data from these reports.

Included in the report, available at the Child Welfare Information Gateway, are numbers from 2005 which serve to show long-term trends within child and youth service agencies. These trends include the sobering fact that adoption through foster care has decreased in the double-digits over the past fifteen years, both in children adopted and in the number of adults entering into foster adoption scenarios in general. Private, familial, and tribal adoptions accounted for more than half of the adoptions studied over this decade. Seven percent of all adoptions in the US in 2014 came from international adoptions. Basically all of this means that people are still adopting, albeit less frequently, and when they do adopt they are more likely to use a private agency and forgo foster care and foster adoptions.

The official number from the report is 415,129 children served nationwide by the foster system.

This includes both temporary and full-time placements. One number that jumps out is the one percent of children who ran away from foster care. That’s 4,100 kids. On a happier note, the placement of foster kids with family members increased by a good amount, and the number of children living in group homes decreased.

On average, kids stay in foster care from 11-24 months.

Some exit through adoption, others age out, and the rest go back to successful family reunifications. 35% of kids stay less than a year, with 28% staying less than two years. This length is actually an upward trend from the past decade.

Early elementary-school white boys are more likely to be in foster care.

Kids between 6-9 years old are the average group of foster care kids. This age has also decreased over the decade. The vast majority of these kids are white—42%. Out of all children in the system, 52% are male.

There are needs in every state—although some states have significantly higher foster populations

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Jennifer Galan

Jennifer Galan mothers four kids (one adopted, three biological) all while living the nomadic life of a military wife. She is a strong advocate for open adoptions, education reform, feminism, kindness, and naps. Mostly naps. Her favorite Doctor is number ten, and she is a proud Ravenclaw.


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