Foster Care

The Child Trends databank of indicators related to child and youth well-being is no longer being updated so that we can focus on data tools and products core to the work of policymakers and other stakeholders, such as:

Additionally, we have a forthcoming interactive tool on childhood poverty we expect to release in late 2021.

Trends in foster care

A child enters foster care when a child protective services worker and a court have determined that it is not safe for the child to remain at home because of a risk of maltreatment, including neglect and physical or sexual abuse.

The number of children in foster care increased during the 1990s, from 400,000 in 1990 to 567,000 in 1999, before dropping to a historic low of 397,000 in 2012 (preliminary estimate). Since then, the number has increased, to 443,000 in 2017 (preliminary estimate). Similarly, the rate of children living in foster care increased from 6.2 per 1,000 children in 1990, to 7.9 in 1999, before decreasing to 5.4 around 2012—the lowest figure in two decades. By 2017, the rate had increased to 6.0 per 1,000.

In 2017, nearly half (45 percent) of all foster children lived in the homes of non-relatives. Nearly one third (32 percent) lived in foster homes with relatives—often known as “kinship care.” This percentage has increased since the late 2000s; in 2008, it was 24 percent. Thirteen percent of foster children in 2017 lived in group homes or institutions, 4 percent in pre-adoptive families, and the rest in other types of facilities (based on preliminary estimates). There has been a slight decline in the number of foster children in group homes and institutions, and a corresponding rise in the number of those in home care. There is evidence suggesting that children placed into kinship care have fewer behavioral problems than children in other types of foster care[1]; however, their caregivers may be less likely to receive the same level of support services as non-relative foster parents[2] (Appendix 1).

Differences by length of stay in foster care

Almost one quarter (24 percent) of all children who exited foster care in 2017 were in foster care for less than six months, and another 19 percent spent six to 11 months in care.* Thirty percent spent one to two years in care, 24 percent spent two to four years in care, and 4 percent spent more than five years in care (preliminary estimates). Proportions of both very long and very short stays in care have been decreasing. Between 2000 and 2017, the proportion of stays shorter than six months as well as the proportion of stays five years or longer decreased by more than half (Appendix 1).

*Length-of-stay data refer only to the most recent removal from the home.

Differences by race and Hispanic origin

In 2017, non-Hispanic white children, who made up about 51 percent of U.S. children younger than 18, accounted for 44 percent of foster children. Non-Hispanic black children, who were around 14 percent of all children, accounted for 23 percent of foster children. Hispanic children (who can be of any race), who were 25 percent of U.S. children, accounted for 21 percent of foster children in 2017[3] (Appendix 1).


State and local estimates

Data and appendices

Data source

Raw data source

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS).


Appendix 1. Number and Percentage of Children in Foster Care: 1990-2017*



Foster care is a living arrangement for children who a child protective services worker and a court has decided cannot live safely at home. Foster care arrangements include non-relative foster homes, relative foster homes (also known as “kinship care”), group homes, institutions, and pre-adoptive homes.


[1] Rubin, D. M., Downes, K. J., O’Reilly, A. L. R., Mekonnen, R., Luan, X., & Localio, R. (2008). Impact of kinship care on behavioral well-being for children in out-of-home care. Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, 162(6), 550-556.

[2] Walsh, W. A., & Mattingly, M. J. (2014). Related foster parents less likely to receive support services compared with nonrelative foster parents. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire, Carsey School of Public Policy. Retrieved from

[3] KIDS COUNT Data Center. (2017). Child population by age group [Data table]. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation. Retrieved from,573,869,36,868,867,133,38,35,18/4693/419.

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2019). Foster care. Available at: