Demystifying the Foster Care System

The Facts of Foster Care: What You Need to Know About the Foster Care System

Foster care is a state-run child welfare system that provides alternative living situations to children whose parent or parents are unable to provide adequate care.

The idea behind foster care is that a child is better off in a household than an orphanage, even if the child is only living there temporarily.

Goals for children in foster care include reunification, adoption, and guardianship.

This graphic helps to visualize the realities of the system and the outcomes for foster youth around the country.

Foster Care: The Numbers

This means about 1 in 184 children in the U.S. are in the foster care system.

A Profile of Foster Youth

53%: Case Goal to reunify with parent(s) or principal caretaker(s)

Sex:

52% male

48% female

Age:

Mean age 8.9 years 

Median Age 8.2 years

Race:

American Indian/Alaskan Native: 2%

Asian: 1%

Black or African American: 24%

Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander: >1%

Hispanic (of any race): 22%

White: 42%Unable to determine: 3%

Two or more races: 6%

If one child were to represent all others in the foster care system, he would be 9 years old, white, more likely to be disabled than a child outside of the system, and trying to reunify with his family.

Profile of Foster Families

Households interested in becoming foster families must apply through the state and go through a process to ensure that the family is qualified and ready to support a foster child. The process is thorough and includes a social services investigation.

While the foster family does receive money from the state to support their foster children, foster families are generally motivated by the opportunity to change a child’s life. The following section illustrates what these families look like, by the numbers.

Foster family income:

The following is for households with one or more unrelated foster children younger than 18.

Percentage Income
1% none
15% Less then $20,000
37% $20,000 to $49,999
36% $50,000 to $99,999
11% $100,000+

15% of households are below 100% of the poverty line

38% of households are below 200% of the poverty line

15% Households receiving food stamps

10% Households with public assistance income

47% Households paying more than 30% of income housing

Poor Outcomes for Foster Youth

Unfortunately, former foster youth are much more likely than the general population to fall intoadverse circumstances.

Former foster youth are much more likely than the general population to:

Commit a crime:

Experience homelessness:

Be unemployed:

Develop PTSD:

Develop drug or alcohol dependence:

They are less likely than the general population to graduate high school or college.

They rely on government services to meet basic needs

Sources:

Foster Care Statistics 2013, Child Welfare Information Gateway, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, April 2015
www.childwelfare.gov/pub/PDFs/foster.pdf

The AFCARS Report, Child Welfare Information Gateway, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, July 2014
https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport21.pdf

William P.O’Hare, Data on Children in Foster Care from the Census Bureau, Kids Count, June 2008
http://www.aecf.org/m/pdf/FosterChildren-July-2008.pdf

Parenting Children in Foster Care, Child Welfare Information Gateways, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, July 2014 https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/outofhome/resources-foster-families/parenting/

Facts About Foster Care: NYC, The U.S., and Outcomes, The Center for Family Representation https://www.cfrny.org/news-blog/foster-care-facts/


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