Foster Care Resource Center
Foster Care Facts
Foster Care Q and A
Debunking the Myths About Foster Care Adoption
Foster Care Adoption Facts and Figures

Foster Care Facts

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Children in Care
400,540 children are in the U.S. foster care system.  Most children are placed temporarily in foster care due to parental abuse or neglect

Age of Children in Foster Care
The median age of a child in foster care is 9 years old.



Younger than 1 year


Age 1-5 years


Age 6-10 years


Age 11-15 years


Age 16-18 years


Over 18


As a percentage, there are more children of color in the foster care system than in the general U.S. population.  However, child abuse and neglect occur at about the same rate in all racial/ethnic groups.


Out of Home Care

Black, Non-Hispanic


White, Non-Hispanic




American Indian/Alaska Native, Non-Hispanic


Asian/Pacific Islander, Non-Hispanic




Two or More Races, Non-Hispanic







Length of Stay
For the children in foster care on September 30, 2011, the average amount of time they had been in the system was 23.9 months.  Fifty three percent of those leaving care that year had been away from home for a year or longer.  Fifty two percent of the young people leaving the system were reunified with their birth parents or primary caregivers.

Youth in Transition
Each year, an estimated 20,000 young people “age out” of the U.S. foster care system.  Many are only 18 years old and still need support and services.  Several foster care alumni studies show that without a lifelong connection to a caring adult, these older youth are often left vulnerable to a host of adverse situations. 

In 2011, 47% of youth in care were living in a foster family home.
In 2011, 23% of youth living in foster were in kinship care.  Kinship care refers to the care of children by relatives or, in some jurisdictions, close family friends.  Relatives are the preferred resource for children who must be removed from their birth parents because it maintains the children’s connections with their families.

In 2011 49,866 youth in foster care were adopted.  Of those youth, 54% were adopted by their foster parent(s).  The “foster parent” category excludes anyone identified as a relative of the child.  Thirty one percent of children adopted in FY 2011 were adopted by a relative.  A “relative” includes a step-parent or other relative of the child.

Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) FY 2011
Child Welfare Information Gateway

Foster Care Q and A

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What is foster care?
Foster care is a protective service for families.  Foster care usually means families helping families.  Children who have been physically abused, sexually abused, neglected or emotionally maltreated are given a family life experience in an agency-approved, certified or licensed home for a planned, temporary period of time.  The primary goal of foster care is to reunite children with their parents.

How does a child enter foster care?
Foster children are children (of all ages) who have been separated from their families of origin due to neglect and/or abuse and are in need of a safe nurturing home.

Most families first become involved with their local child welfare system because of a report of suspected child abuse or neglect (sometimes called “child maltreatment”).  Child maltreatment is defined by The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), as serious harm (neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse of neglect) caused to children by parents or primary caregivers, such as extended family members or babysitters. 

Any concerned person can report suspicions of child abuse or neglect.  Most reports are made by “mandatory reporters”—people who are required by state law to report suspicions of child abuse and neglect. 

These reports are generally received by child protective services workers and are either “screened in” or “screened out.” A report is screened in when there is sufficient information to suggest an investigation is warranted.  A report may be screened out if there is not enough information on which to follow up or if the situation reported does not meet the state’s legal definition of abuse or neglect.  In these instances, the worker may refer the person reporting the incident to other community services or law enforcement for additional help.

How many foster children are there?
There are more than 400,000 children in the foster care system in the United States.

Who are these children?
The average age of a child in foster care is 9 years old.  Fifty two percent are male and 48% are female. 

How long do children stay in foster care?
The length of a child’s stay in foster care varies greatly, case by case.  Some children live with foster families for a few days, others a few years.  The average length has been approximately two years.

What happens to siblings in foster care?
If at all possible, siblings are kept together in one home.  When there is no home available for all siblings, they are sometimes split up into different homes.  There is a tremendous need for families who can take multiple children.

What is the role of a foster family?
A foster family provides a safe, supportive, loving home to child(ren) who have been detained from their families due to substantiated allegations of neglect or abuse.  A foster family serves as a safe harbor for children while their family receives family strengthening services, such as counseling and therapy.  The goal of foster care is to provide children with a safe, nurturing environment while their parents of origin improve their ability to care for their children remove any threats to the child’s safety and well-being from the environment and, ultimately, reunite with their children.

Who can become a foster parent?
Becoming a foster parent requires flexibility, a good sense of humor, a willingness to grow and learn, but most of all a commitment to provide a safe, stable, nurturing and loving home for a child.

  • You can be single, married, divorced, or living with a partner.  Further, you can live in an apartment or house and either rent or own.
  • There is no minimum income, however you must be able to support yourself, and provide a safe and stable home.
  • You can still work.  For working parents, appropriate childcare arrangements need to be made.

Is it expensive to become a foster parent?
Whether you foster or adopt, the child you care for will receive medical and dental coverage.  Further, you will receive monthly financial support until the child is 18 and sometimes longer.  If a child has special mental health and/or medical needs, increased foster care assistance payments are available.

Debunking the Myths About Foster Care Adoption

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MYTH: There are not enough loving families available who want to adopt children from foster care.

FACT: A national survey commissioned by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and conducted by Harris Interactive in 2007 reveals that 48 million Americans have considered adoption from foster care –more so than any other form of adoption, including private adoption of an infant or international adoption.
The research indicates that there are many families interested in foster care adoption but that more needs to be done to find ways to connect these families with waiting children. Through National Adoption Day, the Coalition puts a national spotlight on more than 100,000 waiting children in foster care in the hope that more people will take steps to adopt.

MYTH: There’s too much red tape and bureaucracy involved in adopting a child from foster care.

FACT: Congress has streamlined the foster care adoption process through enactment of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. This law stipulates that children in foster care, who cannot be reunited with their birth parents, are freed for adoption and placed with permanent families as quickly as possible.

MYTH: Adopting a child from foster care is expensive.

FACT: Actually, adopting children from foster care can be virtually free. Many agencies do not charge for the services they provide to families who are adopting a child from foster care. In addition, a growing number of companies and government agencies offer adoption assistance as part of their employee benefits packages, including time off for maternity/paternity leave, financial incentives, and other benefits.  Congress has also made federal tax credits available for foster care adoptions to help offset required fees, court costs, and legal and travel expenses. In 2012, the maximum federal tax credit for qualifying expenses was $12,170. These types of benefits enable more families to adopt children from foster care into their homes.

MYTH: Adoptive parents must be a modern version of Ozzie and Harriet.

FACT: Prospective adoptive parents do not have to be rich, married, own a home, or be of a certain race or age to become an adoptive parent (Nearly one-third of adoptions from foster care are by single parents). In fact, families are as diverse as the children who are available for adoption. Patience, a good sense of humor, a love of children and the commitment to be a good parent are the most important characteristics.

MYTH: All children in foster care have some kind of physical, mental or emotional handicap; that’s why they are classified as “special needs.”

FACT: The term “special needs” is somewhat misleading, because it can mean that the child is older, a minority or requires placement with his/her siblings. While some children are dealing with physical or emotional concerns, they need the nurturing support only a permanent family can provide. Many children in foster care are in the “system” because their birth parents weren’t protective and nurturing caretakers—not because the children did anything wrong or because there is something wrong with them.

MYTH: State agencies may withhold information about a child’s past in order to get that child placed with a family.

FACT: State agencies are legally required to provide full, factual information about a child to any potential adoptive parents. Agencies have an invested interest in ensuring that parents have a positive experience with foster care adoption so they will continue to adopt and recommend others do the same. For children who have physical, emotional or behavioral problems, agencies seek to provide the most comprehensive post-adoptive services available to help the children transition into their new homes.

MYTH: Families don’t receive support after the adoption is finalized.

FACT: Financial assistance does not end with the child’s placement or adoption. The vast majority of children adopted from foster care are eligible for federal or state subsidies that help offset both short-and long-term costs associated with post-adoption adjustments. Such benefits, which vary by state, commonly include monthly cash subsidies, medical assistance and social services.  More information about federal and state subsidy programs is available from the National Adoption Assistance Training, Resource, and Information Network helpline at 1-800-470-6665.

MYTH: Children in foster care have too much “baggage.”

FACT: This is perhaps the biggest myth of all. Children in foster care—just like all children—have enormous potential to thrive given love, patience and a stable environment. Just ask former U.S. Senator Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell or Minnesota Viking Dante Culpepper. They were both foster children who were adopted by caring adults.

MYTH: It’s too difficult to find information on how to adopt.

FACT: There are resources available to help potential parents take the first step towards adopting out of foster care. For more information visit

Foster Care Adoption Facts and Figures

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Every year, more than 100,000 children in foster care are available for adoption. Many spend more than five years waiting for permanent, loving homes. Between 2000 and 2011, nearly 40,000 children were joined together with their forever families as part of National Adoption Day activities.

Who are these waiting children?

  • There are an estimated 408,425 children in foster care in the United States, and more than 100,000 of them are waiting to be adopted.
  • Through no fault of their own, these children enter foster care as a result of abuse, neglect and/or abandonment.
  • The average child waits for an adoptive family for more than three years.
  • 11 percent spend 5 years or more waiting for a family (43,083 children).
  • The average age of children waiting for an adoptive family is 8.

What happens to them?

  • 52,891 children are adopted from foster care.
  • Nearly 30,000 children reach the age of 18 without ever finding a forever family.

Who adopts from foster care?

  • Children in foster care are adopted by three types of families: former foster parents (53 percent), relatives (32 percent) and non-relatives (15 percent).
  • Of the families who adopt children from foster care, 67 percent are married couples, 28 percent are single females, 3 percent are single males, and 2 percent are unmarried couples.
  • A national survey in 2007 revealed that 48 million Americans have considered adoption from foster care – more so than any other form of adoption, including private adoption of an infant or international adoption. (National Foster Care Adoption Attitudes Survey, November 2007. Commissioned by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and conducted by Harris Interactive.)

(Unless otherwise indicated, statistics are provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families Administration on Children AFCARS Report; Preliminary FY 2010 Estimates as of June 2011.)

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