“Do orphanages still exist in America?” and “How many orphans in the U.S.?” are common questions you may hear people ask about, considering that there are an estimated 10 million children living in institutions and more than 60 million children living on the streets today.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word orphan as “a child deprived by death of one or usually both parents.” However, according to Wikipedia, most children who live in orphanages are not orphans by dictionary standards, rather, today, ”four out of five children in orphanages worldwide have at least one living parent and most having some extended family.”

How Many Orphans in the U.S.?

While technically no longer referred to as orphans, The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption pegs the number of children in U.S. foster care at a staggering 443,000, more than 123,000 of whom are considered to be waiting children available for adoption.

The Foundation further explains that the U.S. foster care system includes children of every age, race, ethnic group, and socioeconomic category. Some children are waiting alone and others are waiting with siblings. These children enter foster care through no fault of their own. Oftentimes, these children are the victims of child abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment. They are removed from their homes because their birth family has proven unable or unwilling to provide a safe environment for them.

According to AdoptionNetwork.com, “About 135,000 children total are adopted in the U.S. each year. Of non-stepparent adoptions, about 59% are from the child welfare (or foster) system, 26% are from other countries, and 15% are voluntarily relinquished American babies.” Their statistics also pointed to the number of foster kids adopted annually to be around 50,000. They stated that the average age of a waiting child is 7.7 years old and that 29 percent of foster kids spend a minimum of three years staying in foster care.

Race and Adoption

According to a report from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, “Children adopted privately from the U.S. are most likely to be white (50 percent); those adopted internationally are least likely to be white (19 percent). The majority of children adopted internationally are Asian (59 percent).”

Before we talk about foster homes, it’s important to understand how we’ve arrived here.

The History of Orphanages in the U.S.

In 1729, the first orphanage in the United States was created. According to “Orphanage: An Historical Overview,” it was created “to care for white children who had been orphaned by a conflict between Indians and Whites at Natchez, Mississippi. Orphanages grew and between 1830 and 1850 alone, private charitable groups established 56 children’s institutions in the United States.”

Orphanages in the U.S. Today

Adoption.com’s article, “Do Orphanages Still Exist in America” offers a brief history of orphanages in the U.S. According to the author,

Around the 1900s, the progressive movement began to have a big influence on social thought in America. As a result, reformers started rethinking the orphanage system and created the earliest form of the child welfare system. President Theodore Roosevelt championed the change by forming a conference of leading experts of the day in the field of child care at the Conference on the Care of Dependent Children. Largely due to their vision for child welfare in the US, the reformers moved for Congress to form the United States Children’s Bureau.”

What is Foster Care?

According to Wikipedia, “Foster care is a system in which a minor has been placed into a ward, group home (residential child care community, treatment center, etc.), or private home of a state-certified caregiver, referred to as a “foster parent” or with a family member approved by the state.”

Aging Out

The Dave Thomas Foundation stated, “One of the greatest needs for the children who age out of foster care is to connect with a loving mentor who will guide them through important decisions. If you have a small business that can provide vocational training or if you have experience with college applications and scholarships, this may be the perfect way for you to care for those who are aging out of the system! Contact your local Department of Human Services for more information about becoming a mentor.”

When considering how many orphans in the U.S., we often think of infants and children, but it should be noted that in the U.S., more than 20,000 children will age out of the foster care system, leaving these young adults without any form of support and exposing them to a higher risk for health issues, homelessness, and lack of education.

Additionally, per the National Foster Youth Institute website, ” after reaching the age of 18, 20% of the children who were in foster care will become instantly homeless. … Only one out of every two foster kids who age out of the system will have some form of gainful employment by the age of 24.”

In other words, according to Wikipedia, “one out of 50 children, or 1.5 million children in the U.S., will be homeless each year. In 2013 that number jumped to one out of 30 children, or 2.5 million.”

To learn more about U.S. child welfare, foster care, and adoption information on a state-to-state basis, go to: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/faq/foster-care4.

Orphans Around the Globe

Larger than the question of how many orphans in the U.S., is how many orphans are we aware of worldwide? The World Orphans website states there are approximately 140 million orphans throughout the world. The website then poses the question of why society should focus on its orphans.

The site offers the following statistics:

  • “The number of children under the age of 18 who have been coerced or induced to take up arms as child soldiers is generally thought to be in the range of 300,000. Armed forces in over 50 countries currently recruit children under age 18.

  • “More than 17 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

  • “Of those children that have lost a parent/parents to AIDS, 15 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.

  • “Worldwide, an estimated 300 million children are subjected to violence, exploitation, and abuse. Practices include the worst forms of child labor, armed conflict, and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage.”

The Adoption.com article, Orphans in the World: 7 Shocking Statistics indicates that there were 7,000 international adoptions in 2012 involving U.S. families. It also states that “most of those children were born in China, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The peak of international adoptions was in 2004 and has decreased due to restrictions by the sending countries. … Of the majority of orphans, a striking 95%, are over the age of five.”

While not always popular, one of the safest ways to protect orphaned and abandoned children remains to ensure institutions such as orphanages are available to unparented children, especially in cases where reunification is out of the question.

Orphanages Around the Globe

While orphanage adoption may be a thing of the past in the U.S., hopeful parents who want to adopt a child from an orphanage may still be able to do so through international adoption.

Adoption.com provides a wealth of information surrounding all things international adoption here: https://adoption.com/international. Additionally, the article, “10 Most Popular Countries to Adopt from and Their Adoption Policies,” provides an overview and basic guidelines for the 10 most popular countries to adopt from.

The debate as to whether or not orphanages are a viable solution for children with no homes is no small issue. The article “Orphanages May Be Due for a Comeback,” sited UNICEF figures and stated that “there were more than 132 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean in 2005.”

Still, others are adamant that orphanages are part of the problem and not the solution. As the Poverty Inc. article quoted the Better Care Network video, “The research demonstrates, there are not bad and good orphanages. Rather, orphanages are simply not a good solution for children. Children grow up best in families.”

Many adoption advocates, including the Coalition for the Human Rights of Unparented Children, have made it their mission to “advocate for children’s most fundamental need, and most basic human right: To grow up in loving, nurturing families, with committed parents capable of providing unconditional love on an ongoing basis.”

Take Action

Regardless of opinions on private adoption, foster care, or international adoption and orphanages—the fact remains that millions of children today are without families and homes and their future is one full of bleak uncertainty.

If the question of how many orphans in the U.S. is one that you would like to learn more about in an effort to be part of the solution, there are many online resources that will help you get started, including Adoption.com.

Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.