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