Child Welfare and Foster Care Statistics

Posted May 16, 2022, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Young Black boy on a swing being supported by an adult female with glasses and a ponytail.

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 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 20002020, 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.

Access all sta­tis­tics on chil­dren in fos­ter care, includ­ing data by state:

Sta­tis­tics on chil­dren in fos­ter care await­ing adoption:

Relat­ed sta­tis­tics on chil­dren in out-of-home care from KIDS COUNT:

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:

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:

Stay Con­nect­ed and Do a Deep Dive With Our Resources

Sign up for our newslet­ter to get the lat­est reports, data and news on child wel­fare in the Unit­ed States, access all KIDS COUNT data on child wel­fare and explore the breadth of our child wel­fare and fos­ter care pub­li­ca­tions, webi­na­rs, pod­casts, blog posts and oth­er resources.

Popular Posts

View all blog posts   |   Browse Topics

Mental health is a pressing issue for Generation Z

blog   |   March 3, 2021

Generation Z and Mental Health