Child & Social Services

How many children are victims of abuse or neglect? How many are served by the foster care system? What share of the population are children?

Latest update on March 28, 2023

What are the basic facts?

The federal government tracks several data points on child and social services, including child welfare data on maltreatment, foster care statistics, and population size.

What is the role of the government in child and social services?

Government spending

In fiscal year 2020, governments spent a combined total of $124 billion on child and social services.

That’s $377 per person.

USAFacts categorizes government budget data to allocate spending appropriately, and to arrive at the estimate presented here. Most government spending on child and social services occurs at the state and local levels rather than the federal.

Government revenue and expenditures are based on data from the Office of Management and Budget, the Census Bureau, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Each is published annually, although due to collection times, state and local government data are not as current as federal data. Thus, when combining federal, state, and local revenues and expenditures, the most recent year for a combined number may be delayed.

Key government actors

Level of government
Key actors
Responsibilities

Federal

Children's Bureau, Department of Health and Human Services

Administer child welfare programs at federal level

State/local

State departments of human services, county-administered programs

Administer child welfare programs

Level of government

Federal

State/local

How likely are children to be victims of abuse or neglect?

Child maltreatment rates in the US

In 2021, 8.1 out of 1,000 children were found to be victims at least once of abuse or neglect.

Rates of child abuse and neglect are down from a recent high in 2018.

Data on child abuse or neglect — collectively known as child maltreatment — is compiled in a Department of Health and Human Services-run database. The child maltreatment database only includes reported cases of child abuse. More than two-thirds of cases are reported by professionals that often have a legal obligation to report suspected abuse, such as teachers, law enforcement officers, and social workers. However, not all incidents of abuse or neglect are reported, so the data likely underrepresents the number of victims.

Federal law regarding child abuse was largely established by the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). CAPTA provides funds for research and state-government based child protective services.

How many children are in the foster care system?

Children in foster care

In fiscal year 2021, there were 606,000 children served by the foster care system.

Foster care is a situation in which the government provides a temporary home for children who cannot live with their primary families. The Children's Bureau, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary agency responsible for federal policy on foster care.

The primary goal of child welfare agencies is to reunite children safely with their families, though some children are permanently placed with new families through adoption or age out of foster care.

The number of children in foster care is counted every year on September 30th, the end of the fiscal year. But children enter and exit the foster care system throughout the year. This means that the number of children who were in the foster care system at some point over the year is higher than this point-in-time measure.

What percent of population is under 18?

Child share of the population

In 2022, 21.8% of the US population were under 18 years old, down from 25.7% in 2000.

With decreasing birthrates and an increasingly aging US population, the share of children in the US has been declining.

Annual census data shows a decline across the country in the under-18 population. Changing demographics in the country may lead to a shift in government priorities that are geared more toward an aging population.