Download & Other Tools
- Definition: Number of children under age 21 in foster care as of July 1 of each year.
- Data Source: Needell, B., et al. (May 2014). Child Welfare Services Reports for California, U.C. Berkeley Center for Social Services Research; U.S. data come from Child Trends analysis of Adoption & Foster Care Analysis & Reporting System data by the National Data Archive on Child Abuse & Neglect, as cited on KIDS COUNT (May 2014).
- Footnote: This is a point-in-time, unduplicated count of children under the supervision of county welfare departments and excludes cases under the supervision of county probation departments, out-of-state agencies, state adoptions district offices, and Indian child welfare departments. U.S. totals reflect children in foster care as of Sept. 30 each year. N/A means that data are not available.
- Measures of Foster Care on Kidsdata.org
Foster care is measured 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 to care reflect repeated maltreatment.See below for links to research and more information about foster care.
- Foster Care
- First Entries into Foster Care
- Number of Children in Foster Care
- Length of Time from Foster Care to Adoption, by Length of Time to Adoption
- Median Number of Months in Foster Care
- Placement Distances from Home
- Placement Stability, by Number of Placements
- Re-entries into Foster Care
- Exit Status After One Year in Foster Care
- Exit Status After Four Years in Foster Care
- Births to Unmarried Women (California & U.S. Only)
- Child Population
- Children in Rural and Urban Areas (California & U.S. Only)
- Public School Enrollment
- Total Population
- Child Abuse and Neglect
- Dating and Domestic Violence
- Disconnected Youth
- 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 not able to provide adequate care. The goal of the U.S. foster care system is to safely reunify children with their parents or secure another permanent home, such as adoption. However, too often this goal is not achieved (1). Instead, many children spend years in foster homes or group homes, often moving multiple times (2). These children are at increased risk for a variety of emotional, behavioral, and academic problems (1). 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 (3).
About 10% of foster youth "age out" of the system (i.e., they reach age 18 or 21, depending on the state), and services end abruptly (4). California extends care up to age 21. While the Affordable Care Act ensures that health coverage continues until age 26 (5), this end in services can create other challenges. A high percentage of youth who "age out" experience inadequate housing, low educational and career attainment, early parenthood, substance abuse, physical and mental health problems, and involvement with the legal system (2). Some of these problems may stem from their experience with abuse/neglect; and some problems may result from a lack of services and systemic planning to equip youth with the skills and resources to successfully transition to adulthood (2).
For more information about foster care, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.
Sources for this narrative:
1. Child Trends. (2011). Foster care data snapshot. (Publication No. 2011-19). Retrieved from: http://www.childtrends.org/?publications=foster-care-data-snapshot
2. Howard, J., & Berzin, S. (2011). Never too old: Achieving permanency and sustaining connections for older youth in foster care. Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Retrieved from: http://adoptioninstitute.org/publications/never-too-old-achieving-permanency-and-sustaining-connections-for-older-youth-in-foster-care/
3. Kidscount. (2014). Children entering foster care. Retrieved from: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/acrossstates/Rankings.aspx?ind=6269
4. Kidscount. (2014). Children exiting foster care. Retrieved from: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/6277-children-exiting-foster-care-by-exit-reason?loc=1&loct=2#detailed/1/any/false/868,867,133,38,35/2629,2630,2631,2632,2633,2634,2635,2636/13050,13051
5. Emam, D., & Golden, O. (2014). The Affordable Care Act and youth aging out of foster care: New opportunities and strategies for action. State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center. Retrieved from: http://www.clasp.org/resources-and-publications/publication-1/The-Affordable-Care-Act-and-Youth-Aging-Out-of-Foster-Care.pdf
- How Children Are Faring
In 2013, 58,699 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 to 2.8 in 2013. At the county level, rates of first entries into foster care ranged widely, from 0.9 to 14.5 per 1,000 in 2013, among counties with available data. In California, 83% of children who entered foster care for the first time in 2011-13 were removed from their families due to neglect; 9% due to physical abuse; and 2% due to sexual abuse. For children who entered care in the first half of 2012, 39% were reunified with their families and 58% were still in foster care one year later. Overall, California children are spending less time in foster care than a decade ago, although the median number of months in care increased slightly between 2009 and 2011, to 14 months.
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 8.5 and 8.8 per 1,000, respectively, in 2011-13; this compares to 2.7 for 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 2011-13, the rate of California infants entering foster care (11.0 per 1,000) was more than double the rate of children ages 1-2, more than 3 times that of ages 3-5, and more than 5 times that of older children.For more information on racial disproportionality and disparities in child welfare, see the Child Welfare Information Gateway's Disproportionality Resources and a recent synthesis of research on the issue. Also, see links below.
- 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 can promote positive health and well being for children in foster care and facilitate the connections that enable youth “aging out” of the child welfare system to thrive as adults.
According to research and subject experts, policies that could provide better support and improve outcomes for children and youth in foster care include:
- Providing a range of prevention services to families of children at risk of abuse or neglect, including accurate risk assessment, parenting education, and home-visiting services (1, 2)
- Addressing family separation issues as a consequence of immigration enforcement (3)
- Removing barriers to licensing foster homes for relatives of children in care, including helping kin guardians cover unexpected costs of care (4)
- Providing an accessible system of mental health services for children in foster care, including early assessment and referrals (2, 5) and promoting awareness of the Medicaid expansion to cover foster youth until age 26, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act (6)
- Implementing procedures for the management of information related to the sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression of youth under the supervision of child welfare agencies to ensure their safety and well being (7)
- Supporting effective strategies to improve outcomes for, and reduce the overrepresentation of, children of color in the child welfare system, especially African American/Black and American Indian/Alaska Native children (8)
- Increasing awareness of and response to the commercial sexual exploitation of youth in foster care (9)
- Supporting the educational success of children in foster care by addressing school enrollment barriers; children’s social, health, and academic needs, including specialized services; and the need for effective communication and data sharing among schools, foster parents, and the child welfare system (10)
- Addressing the needs of parenting and pregnant foster youth, such as ensuring access to child care, and providing age appropriate reproductive health education (11)
- Ensuring proper implementation of existing law supporting youth ages 18-21, providing them with needed services and opportunities for successful emancipation from foster care (12)
For more research to support policy on child abuse prevention and foster care, see the Child Welfare Information Gateway, the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare, and California Fostering Connections. For implementation tools, see Child Welfare League of America.
Sources for this narrative:
1. Princeton Universities and Brookings Institution. (2009). Preventing child maltreatment. The Future of Children, 19(2). Retrieved from: http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/docs/19_02_FullJournal.pdf
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2009). Preventing child maltreatment through the promotion of safe, stable, nurturing relationships between children and caregivers. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/CM_Strategic_Direction--Long-a.pdf
3. Lincroft, Y. (2013). ‘The Reuniting Immigrant Families Act’: A case study on California’s Senate Bill 1064. Retrieved from: http://childwelfaresparc.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/reuniting-immigrant-families-act-brief.pdf
4. Kids Count, The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2012). Stepping up for kids: What government and communities should do to support kinship families. Retrieved from: http://www.aecf.org/KnowledgeCenter/Publications.aspx?pubguid=%7b642BF3F2-9A85-4C6B-83C8-A30F5D928E4D%7d
5. Delgado, M. (2010). Proposition 63: Is the Mental Health Services Act reaching California’s transition age foster youth? Children’s Advocacy Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.caichildlaw.org/Misc/Proposition_63_Report_FINAL_Master.pdf
6. Emam, D., & Golden, O. (2014). The Affordable Care Act and youth aging out of foster care: New opportunities and strategies for action. State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center. Retrieved from: http://www.clasp.org/resources-and-publications/publication-1/The-Affordable-Care-Act-and-Youth-Aging-Out-of-Foster-Care.pdf
7. Putting Pride into Practice Project, Family Builders by Adoption. (2013). Guidelines for managing information related to the sexual orientation & gender identity and expression of children in child welfare systems. Retrieved from: http://www.nclrights.org/legal-help-resources/resource/guidelines-for-managing-information-related-to-the-sexual-orientation-gender-identity-and-expression-of-children-in-child-welfare-settings-2013/
8. Miller, O. (2009). Reducing racial disproportionality and disparate outcomes for children and families of color in the child welfare system. Casey Family Programs. Retrieved from: http://www.casey.org/Resources/Publications/pdf/BreakthroughSeries_ReducingDisproportionality_process.pdf
9. Walker, K. (2013). Ending the commercial sexual exploitation of children: A call for multi-system collaboration in California. California Child Welfare Council. Retrieved from: http://www.youthlaw.org/fileadmin/ncyl/youthlaw/publications/Ending-CSEC-A-Call-for-Multi-System_Collaboration-in-CA.pdf
10. Frerer, K., et al. (2013). At greater risk: California foster youth and the path from high school to college. Stuart Foundation. Retrieved from: http://www.stuartfoundation.org/OurStrategy/vulnerableYouthInChildWelfare/at-greater-risk
11. Center for the Study of Social Policy. (n.d.). Pregnant & parenting youth in foster care: A guide to service improvements. Retrieved from: http://www.cssp.org/reform/child-welfare/pregnant-and-parenting-teens
12. Courtney, M., et al. (2013). Providing foster care for young adults: Early implementation of California’s Fostering Connections Act. Retrieved from:
- Websites with Related Information
- Abuse, Neglect, Adoption and Foster Care Research, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Child Welfare and Foster Care Systems, Chapin Hall Center at University of Chicago
- Child Welfare Information Gateway, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Child Welfare League of America
- Children's Rights
- Healthy Foster Care America, American Academy of Pediatrics
- National Center for Youth Law: Child Welfare
- PolicyforResults.org, Center for the Study of Social Policy
- Represent: A Magazine by and for Foster Youth, Youth Communication
- State Child Welfare Policy Database, Casey Family Programs
- Key Reports
- Addressing Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare, 2011, Child Welfare Information Gateway
- Adoption and Foster Care by Lesbian and Gay Parents in the United States, 2007, The Urban Institute & The Charles R. Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, Gates, G., et al.
- At Greater Risk: California Foster Youth and the Path from High School to College, 2013, Stuart Foundation, Frerer, K. et al.
- Children Adopted from Foster Care: Child and Family Characteristics, Adoption Motivation, and Well-Being, 2011, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of The Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Malm, K. et al.
- Cumulative Risk of Child Protective Service Involvement before Age 5: A Population-Based Examination, 2014, Putnam-Hornstein, E., et al.
- Disparities and Disproportionality in Child Welfare: Analysis of the Research, 2011, Annie E. Casey Foundation
- Guidelines for Managing Information Related to the Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity and Expression of Children in Child Welfare Systems, 2013, Putting Pride Into Practice Project, Family Builders by Adoption, Wilber, S.
- How the Child Welfare System Works, 2013, Child Welfare Information Gateway
- Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect, Child Welfare Information Gateway
- Never Too Old: Achieving Permanency and Sustaining Connections for Older Youth in Foster Care, 7/2011, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, Howard & Berzin
- Promising Strategies from the California Connected by 25 Initiative: Tips and Resources to Improve Outcomes for Transition Age Foster Youth, 2011, Stuart Foundation
- Providing Foster Care for Young Adults: Early Implementation of California’s Fostering Connections Act, 2013, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, Courtney, M., et al.
- The Affordable Care Act and Youth Aging Out of Foster Care: New Opportunities and Strategies for Action, 4/2014, State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center, Emam, D., & Golden, O.
- The Lifelong Effects of Early Childhood Adversity and Toxic Stress, 2012, American Academy of Pediatrics, Shonkoff, J. P., et al.
- The Reuniting Immigrant Families Act: A Case Study on California’s Senate Bill 1064, 2013, State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center, Lincroft, Y.
- Who Are the Infants in Out-of-Home Care?, 2011, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, Wulczyn, F., et al.
- County/Regional Reports
- Children's Report Card: Sacramento County Children's Coalition, 2013
- Cumulative Risk of Child Protective Service Involvement before Age 5: A Population-Based Examination, 2014, Putnam-Hornstein, E., et al.
- Fresno Community Scorecard, Fresno Business Council and Valley PBS
- Kern County Report Card, 2014, Kern County Network for Children
- San Diego County 2013 Report Card on Children & Families, 2014, The Children's Initiative
- Santa Clara County Children's Agenda: 2014 Data Book, Planned Parenthood and Kids in Common
- Solano County Children's Report Card, 2014, Children's Network
- Youth Homelessness in the Era of AB12: Findings from Alameda County AB12 Homeless Youth Demonstration Project, 2013, Alameda County Foster Youth Alliance, DreamCatcher Youth Shelter & Bay Area Legal Aid
- More Data Sources For Foster Care
- California Child Welfare Indicators Project, California Department of Social Services & UC Berkeley, Center for Social Services Research
- Child Trends: Child Welfare
- Childstats.gov, Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics
- Knowing the Numbers: Accessing and Using Child Welfare Data, 9/2014, Child Trends, Vandivere, S., & DeVooght, K.