Foster care is part of the child welfare system whereby children are removed from their homes due to allegations (or risk) of abuse or neglect and placed in 24-hour substitute care until they can either be reunited with the parents, placed in the care of a relative, or adopted by a non-relative. While the structure of foster care varies widely from state to state, there are some general characteristics that apply to all foster children across the United States.
How children come into foster care
Most foster children are in care because they have families that cannot provide them with adequate care or the basic necessities of life, or because they have been subjected to abuse and neglect.
There are currently more than 400,000 children in foster care across the United States. The overwhelming majority of foster children enter care due to reports of alleged child abuse in their homes:
- Neglect (75%)
- Physical abuse (15%)
- Sexual abuse (10%)
Other familial factors that can result in a child being placed in foster care include substance abuse, incarceration, mental illness, extreme poverty, and homelessness.
Approximately, 60% of all reports of abuse or neglect that result in a child being placed in foster care are made by professionals:
- 17% by law enforcement
- 17% by educational personnel
- 11% by social services
- 9% by medical personnel
The remaining reports are made by non-professionals and others, including friends, neighbors, sports coaches, and relatives.
Facts about children in foster care
Foster care children range in ages from infants to 18 years old:
- The average age of all children in foster care is 9 years old.
- 25% of all children entering foster care are infants. 45% of all these infants are placed in foster care within 30 days of their birth.
Of the estimated 400,000 children in foster care at any given time, 52% are male and 48% female.
Foster children come from a variety of cultural, religious, racial, and ethnic and backgrounds.
- 45 % White.
- 23 % Black or African-American.
- 20 % Hispanic.
- 10 % Other races or multiracial.
- 2 % Undetermined.
However, while foster children overall spend an average of 2 years in foster care, children of color, especially black, are more likely to have longer placement in foster care.
Despite being taken from their families and placed in foster care, many foster children remain close to their biological families, visiting and telephoning with them regularly.
Most foster children are eventually returned to their families––either to their biological parents who have worked through their difficulties, or into the care of a relative.
Of the approximate 400,0000 children in foster care, only 60,000 have had their biological, parents’ rights permanently removed.
The average foster care child is moved from one foster home to another at least once, with 25% being moved 3 or 4 times before being reunited with their families, or a more permanent solution, such as adoption, is arranged.
Issues associated with foster care children
Children often come into foster care with emotional, developmental or physical challenges caused by the abuse and neglect they have suffered, including:
- Post Traumatic Stress disorder
- Depression and Anxiety
- Self Esteem issues
- Relationship issues
- Oppositional defiance
Many foster children blame themselves for the abuse or neglect they have suffered and feel unwanted. These children also tend to have attachment issues and are distrustful of others. Furthermore, the experience of being taken from their families often leaves them feeling helpless and uncertain about their future.
In regard to school and education, foster children have a higher rate of grade retention; lower scores on standardized tests; and higher absenteeism, tardiness, truancy and dropout rates when compared to the general population.
For the latest data and statistics regarding children in foster care in the state where you live, contact a state or local foster care agency.