Foster Care

Publication Date:

Sep 12, 2018

Key facts about foster care

  • The number of children in foster care has increased in recent years, climbing to 437,000 in 2016 from a historic low of 397,000 in 2012.
  • The percentage of children staying in the home of a relative (“kinship care”) has increased steadily over the last decade, reaching 32 percent of children in foster care in 2016.
  • Non-Hispanic black children account for 23 percent of children in foster care, but about 14 percent of all children in the United States.
  • The proportions of children staying in care for less than six months and more than five years each dropped substantially from 2000 to 2016; in 2016, the largest proportion of children exiting care had spent one to two years in care.

Trends in foster care

Children are placed in 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 the 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 397,000 in 2012 (preliminary estimate). Since then, the number has increased, to 437,000 in 2016 (preliminary estimate). Similarly, the rate of children living in foster care increased from 6 per 1,000 children in 1990 to 8 in 1999, before decreasing to 5 in 2012—the lowest figure in two decades. By 2016, though, the rate had increased again to 6 per 1,000.

In 2016, nearly half (45 percent) of all foster children lived in the homes of nonrelatives. More than one-quarter (32 percent) lived in foster homes with relatives, often known as “kinship care.” This proportion has steadily increased since the late 2000s; in 2008, it was 24 percent. Twelve percent of foster children in 2016 lived in group homes or institutions, 4 percent lived in pre-adoptive families, and the rest lived in other types of facilities (based on preliminary estimates). There has been a slight decline since the early 2000s in the number of foster children in group homes and institutions and a corresponding rise in the number of those in home care with relatives. Evidence suggests that children placed in 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 nonrelative foster parents[2] (Appendix 1).

Differences by length of stay in foster care

One-quarter (25 percent) of all children who exited foster care in 2016 had resided in care for less than six months, and another 20 percent spent six to eleven months in care. Twenty-eight percent spent one to two years in care, while 24 percent spent two to four years and an additional 4 percent spent more than five years (preliminary estimates). Proportions of both very long and very short stays in foster care have been decreasing. From 2000 to 2016, the proportion of stays shorter than six months decreased by more than one-quarter, and the proportion that were five years or longer decreased by more than half. Length-of-stay data refer only to the most recent removal from the home (Appendix 1).

Differences by race and Hispanic origin

Non-Hispanic white children, who made up about 51 percent of American children under age 18, accounted for 44 percent of foster children in 2016. Non-Hispanic black children, who made up around 14 percent of the total, accounted for 23 percent of foster children in the same year. Hispanic children (of any race) were 25 percent of U.S. children, and accounted for 21 percent of foster children in 2016[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: 1990–2016*



Foster care is a living arrangement for children that a child protective services worker or court has decided cannot live safely at home. Foster care arrangements include nonrelative 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., et al. (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. (2018). Foster care. Available at: