First Entries into Foster Care, by Age

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Learn More About Foster Care

Measures of Foster Care on
Foster care is measured in several different ways, with each indicator illustrating a different aspect of this complex system. Rate of first entries into foster care reflects the incidence of children who are removed from unsafe home environments. Number of children in care provides a snapshot of actual children in foster care at a point in time. Placement distance describes the availability of local foster homes; it generally is preferable to place foster children close to home. Placement stability is important, as it is traumatic for children to be moved from one living situation to another. Median number of months in foster care gives an indication of how much time children are spending in foster care. Length of time to adoption describes how quickly the child welfare system is able to secure a permanent, safe home for a child who cannot return to his or her family of origin. And exit status after one year in care, and after four years in care, give a picture of what happens to children after being in foster care for each amount of time, while re-entries into care reflect repeated maltreatment.
Foster Care
Child Abuse and Neglect
Disconnected Youth
Intimate Partner Violence
Why This Topic Is Important
Foster care is intended to provide temporary, safe living arrangements and therapeutic services for children who cannot remain safely at home due to child maltreatment or for children whose parents are unable to provide adequate care. The U.S. foster care system aims to safely reunify children with their parents or secure another permanent home, e.g., through adoption. However, too often this goal is not achieved (1, 2). Instead, many children spend years in foster homes or group homes, often moving multiple times (1, 3). These children are at increased risk for a variety of emotional, physical, behavioral, and academic problems (3). Recognizing these issues, advocates and policymakers have made efforts to safely reduce the number of children living in foster care. While the number of children in care has decreased substantially in the U.S. and California over the previous decade, California continues to have the largest number of children entering the system (4, 5).

Nationally, about 10% of foster youth "age out" of the system (instead of being reunified with their families or adopted), and services often end abruptly (2, 6). Many states, including California, now extend services past age 18 up to 21. While the Affordable Care Act ensures that health coverage continues until age 26, “aging out” of the foster care system can create many challenges for youth (2, 6). A high percentage of these youth experience inadequate housing, low educational and career attainment, early parenthood, substance abuse, physical and mental health problems, and involvement with the criminal justice system (3, 6). Much work is under way to help ensure that these vulnerable youth have the support, skills, and resources to successfully transition to adulthood (2, 6).
For more information about foster care, see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. (2014). Child welfare outcomes 2009–2012: Report to Congress. Retrieved from:

2.  Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Enhancing permanency for youth in out-of-home care. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau. Retrieved from:

3.  Child Trends Databank. (2014). Foster care. Retrieved from:

4.  As cited on, Number of children in foster care. (2015). UC Berkeley Center for Social Services Research and Child Trends.

5.  KIDS COUNT Data Center. (2015). Children entering foster care. Retrieved from:

6.  Russ, E., & Fryar, G. (2014). Creating access to opportunities for youth in transition from foster care. American Youth Policy Forum. Retrieved from:

How Children Are Faring
In 2014, 62,097 children and youth in California were living in foster care. After hitting lows in 2010 and 2011, the rate of first entries into foster care has increased slightly in recent years, from 2.6 per 1,000 children and youth in 2011 to 2.8 in 2014. At the county level, rates of first entries into foster care ranged widely, from 0.9 to 20.5 per 1,000 in 2014, among counties with available data. In California, 84% of children who entered foster care for the first time in 2012-14 were removed from their families due to neglect, 8% due to physical abuse, and 2% due to sexual abuse. For children who entered care in the first half of 2013, 35% were reunified with their families and 62% were still in foster care one year later. The median length of time California children spent in foster care declined between 2001 and 2009 from 17 to 13 months, but then rose to 15 months in 2012.

The rate of first entries into foster care varies by race/ethnicity and age. African American/Black and American Indian/Alaska Native children consistently have the highest rates of foster care entry, at 8.9 and 8.5 per 1,000, respectively, in 2012-14; this compares to 2.9 for Hispanic/Latino, 2.6 for White, and 0.7 for Asian/Pacific Islander children during the same period. Of all age groups, infants consistently have the highest rates of entry into foster care. In 2012-14, the rate of California infants entering foster care (11.9 per 1,000) was nearly 3 times the rate of children ages 1-2, nearly 4 times that of ages 3-5, and more 5 times that of older age groups.
For more information on racial disproportionality and inequities in child welfare, see the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Policy Implications
Children and youth in foster care interact with a range of public and private systems that can support them and help them obtain permanent, safe homes. Policymakers have an important role in helping to prevent children from entering foster care, ensuring the health and well being of those in care, and facilitating the connections and opportunities that enable youth “aging out” of the system to thrive as adults.

According to research and subject experts, policy and program options that could help prevent children from entering foster care and improve outcomes for those in care include:
  • Continuing to ensure that effective prevention services are in place for families with children at risk of abuse or neglect, such as family support, parent education, and home-visiting services (1)
  • Supporting efforts to provide an accessible system of quality mental health services for children in foster care or at risk of entering care, as well as for their parents (2)
  • Continuing efforts to recruit, strengthen, and support foster homes provided by relatives of children in care, removing barriers that can make it difficult for relatives to provide care; when children cannot be placed with kin, placements in other family settings should be prioritized over group settings (3)
  • Continuing to address family separation issues as a consequence of immigration enforcement (4)
  • Supporting effective strategies to reduce the overrepresentation of, and improve outcomes for, children of color in foster care (5)
  • Implementing and strengthening laws and child welfare agency practices to protect and support LGBTQ youth in foster care (6)
  • Continuing to increase awareness of and improve responses to the commercial sexual exploitation of youth in foster care (7, 8)
  • In accordance with California’s Local Control Funding Formula, supporting the educational success of children in foster care by addressing issues such as school enrollment barriers; social, health, and academic needs, including specialized services; and the need for communication and data sharing, among other issues; also, ensuring that foster youth are aware of and have support to pursue postsecondary education and workforce opportunities (9, 10, 11)
  • Ensuring effective implementation of existing laws that support foster youth in the transition to adulthood, including the California Fostering Connections to Success Act which extends foster care services to age 21, and the Affordable Care Act which extends Medicaid coverage to foster youth until age 26 (12)
  • Promoting efforts to increase collaboration across sectors (e.g., child welfare, education, health care, housing, public assistance, workforce systems, and others) to ensure that all foster youth – including those with disabilities, parenting and pregnant foster youth, those facing homelessness, and other vulnerable groups – receive the services and support they need to thrive (11, 12, 13)
For more information, see’s Research & Links section, or visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway, California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare, or California Fostering Connections Project.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2015). Child maltreatment: Prevention strategies. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from:

2.  California Department of Social Services and California Department of Health Care Services. (2013). Pathways to mental health services: Core practice model guide. Retrieved from:

3.  Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2015). Every kid needs a family: Giving children in the child welfare system the best chance for success. Retrieved from:

4.  Lincroft, Y. (2013). The Reuniting Immigrant Families Act: A case study on California’s Senate Bill 1064. First Focus State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center. Retrieved from:

5.  Miller, O., & Esenstad, A. (2015). Strategies to reduce racially disparate outcomes in child welfare. Center for the Study of Social Policy, Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare. Retrieved from:

6.  Human Rights Campaign. (n.d.). LGBTQ youth in the foster care system. Retrieved from: 

7.  Walker, K. (2013). Ending the commercial sexual exploitation of children: A call for multi-system collaboration in California. California Child Welfare Council. Retrieved from: CSEC - A Call for Multi-System Collaboration in CA - February 2013.pdf

8.  Children’s Defense Fund, et al. (2015). Implementing the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (P.L. 113-183) to benefit children and youth. Retrieved from:

9.  Frerer, K., et al. (2013). At greater risk: California foster youth and the path from high school to college. Stuart Foundation. Retrieved from:

10.  Alliance for Children’s Rights, et al. (n.d.). Foster youth education toolkit. Retrieved from:

11.  Russ, E., & Fryar, G. (2014). Creating access to opportunities for youth in transition from foster care. American Youth Policy Forum. Retrieved from:

12.  California Fostering Connections Project. (n.d.). California fostering connections to success. Retrieved from:

13.  Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. (2014). From foster home to homeless: Strategies to prevent homelessness for youth transitioning from foster care. Retrieved from:
Websites with Related Information
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