Nearly 425,000 Kids in Foster Care Before the COVID-19 Pandemic Hit in 2018

Posted April 13, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Update latestfiguresreleasedascoronaviruscrisis 2020

The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has cur­tailed in-per­son con­tact among chil­dren, fam­i­lies and social work­ers and left sys­tems strug­gling to func­tion. It’s a sce­nario that leaves a vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion — chil­dren in fos­ter care — even more vulnerable.

Although we don’t know exact­ly how many kids were in fos­ter care when the coro­n­avirus cri­sis began, the most recent avail­able data indi­cates that there were 424,653 chil­dren in fos­ter care in 2018. This fig­ure — pro­duced by Child Trends, which ana­lyzed data from the Adop­tion and Fos­ter Care Analy­sis and Report­ing Sys­tem — may aid state gov­ern­ments and oth­er stake­hold­ers as they look for ways to help chil­dren nego­ti­ate this unprece­dent­ed challenge.

The 2018 count is down slight­ly from 2017, a year that may end up being viewed as a peak tied to the opi­oid epi­dem­ic. In each of the years from 2015 through 2018, about 6 out of every 1,000 chil­dren were in the fos­ter care system.

Break­downs of the nation’s fos­ter care pop­u­la­tion by race and eth­nic­i­ty and by age group and gen­der can be found on the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Center.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly because of their size, Cal­i­for­nia (47,706 chil­dren) and Texas (32,776) had the largest num­bers of chil­dren in fos­ter care in 2018. The high­est rates per 1,000 chil­dren were found in some of the country’s most rur­al states: West Vir­ginia (19 chil­dren per 1,000), Mon­tana (17) and Alas­ka (15). The states with the low­est rates — all 3 per 1,000 chil­dren — were Delaware, Mary­land, New Jer­sey, Utah and Virginia.

Between 2017 and 2018, the fos­ter care sys­tems of 10 states — Geor­gia, Iowa, Ken­tucky, Maine, Neva­da, North Dako­ta, Rhode Island, Ten­nessee, Vir­ginia and West Vir­ginia — record­ed increas­es in their rates per 1,000 chil­dren. Eight states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia reg­is­tered decreases.

View chil­dren in fos­ter care by state >

These fig­ures only cov­er chil­dren in the U.S. fos­ter care sys­tem — that is, boys and girls ages 0 to 17. Many states extend fos­ter care ben­e­fits to young adults, who are not includ­ed in this update.

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