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; however, their caregivers may be less likely to receive the same level of support services as non-relative foster parents (Appendix 1).