Foster care is intended to provide a temporary stable home for children who cannot safely remain in their current situations due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. The federal foster care program, known as title IV-E, funds services that are managed locally — in 50 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and tribes with approved title IV-E plans.
The most recent report from 2021 shows that an estimated 606,031 children passed through the US foster care system over the course of one year. This number, from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), represents both the children who were already in the system at the beginning of the federal fiscal year (October 1, 2020) and the children who entered into the system over the next 12 months. On the last day of the fiscal year, September 30, 2021, approximately 391,098 kids were in foster care.
The Department of Health and Human Services set up AFCARS to collect foster care and adoption data from each of the title IV-E jurisdictions. The program tracks the number of children who enter and exit foster care, who are adopted, and who are waiting to be adopted.
The program also reports the number of children waiting to be adopted after their parents’ parental rights were terminated as of the last day of the fiscal year. In 2021, that number was 64,985.
Over the last two decades, the number of children in foster care has declined each year, with the exception of a five-year span between 2013–2018.
In 1998, an estimated 559,000 children were in the foster care system on the last day of the fiscal year.
2021 data shows a 30% decrease since 1998, with roughly 391,098 kids in foster care. In the last decade, from 2012–2021, the average number of kids in foster care on a single day was 414,863.
Over half of kids in foster care are boys, around 51%. Girls make up around 49%. This matches the gender breakdown of children under 18, according to the 2021 Census calculations, where boys are 51% of the US population and girls are 49%.
In 2001, white and Black kids were equally represented in foster care, at 38% each. But a shift began in 2002, when the percentage of Black children in foster care declined while the percentage of white and Hispanic kids rose.
By 2021, white children made up 43% of kids in foster care. Black and Hispanic children each accounted for 22%. The remaining 13% of foster care kids identified as two or more races, Asian, Native American or Pacific Islander, or unknown descent.
Despite the falling percentage of Black children in foster care, they are still disproportionately represented in the system. Black children made up 15% of the child population but 22% of all kids in foster care on September 30, 2021.
Non-Hispanic white children made up 49.4% of the 2021 child population, but 43% of the foster care population at the end of fiscal year 2021.
Historically, the proportions of Hispanic and Asian children in foster care have been smaller than their proportions of the US population. On September 30, 2021, Hispanic children made up 25.7% of the population and 22% of the foster care population. Asian children were 5.4% of the population but 1% of foster care kids.
In the early 2000s, youth ages 15–20 were the most represented age group in foster care. Between 2003–2010, this age group averaged 28% of all kids in care. By 2021, this group has trended downward, representing 19% of foster kids.
Young adults ages 18–20 may remain in foster care provided they are in school, enrolled in an employment program, working, or incapable of school or work due to a medical condition. Some states allow young adults to return to foster care if they left at 18. As of September 30, 2021, there were 14,380 young adults ages 18-20 in foster care.
Children ages 1–4 have been the most prevalent foster care age group since 2011. In 2021, they made up 30% of all kids in foster care.
The percentage of infants has remained steady over the last decade, representing 7% of foster care kids.
As of 2021, the two most populous states had the most children in foster care. California had 47,871 kids in foster care — the most of any state. Texas had the second-most population of kids in care at 28,042.
When adjusted for population, West Virginia led the nation with 1,710 kids in care per 100,000 residents under age 21. Alaska was second at 1,413, and Montana was third with 1,112.
New Jersey, Delaware, and Utah had the fewest foster care kids per 100,000 residents: 137, 180, and 195 kids, respectively.
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To report suspected child abuse or neglect, call or text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). Professional crisis counselors are available 24/7 days a week, in over 170 languages. All calls are confidential. For more information, visit www.childwelfare.gov.
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