How are Children in Foster Homes Faring?

Washington, DC – Beyond the tragic cases that reach the news, what do we know about the health and well-being of children in foster homes? By reviewing the best data available, Child Trends found that generally this population is in poorer health than other children, they have more developmental and behavioral problems, and many are poorly engaged in school. But, on the positive side, nearly all foster children had health insurance, many had strong relationships with at least one adult, and more than half attended religious services regularly.

“By better understanding the strengths and challenges faced by children in the foster care system and the diversity among them, caregivers and those working in the child welfare system can better focus resources on critical areas of need,” said Kristin Moore, president and senior scholar at Child Trends.

The data in the brief, Children in Foster Homes: How Are They Faring?, come from two sources: the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being and the National Survey of America’s Families. Some of the findings include:

  • Twenty-four percent of children under age 15 in foster care have chronic health problems; almost one-third (30 percent) have a disability.

  • Nearly all children in foster care (95 percent) are covered by public or private health insurance; ninety percent of those under 5 were up-to-date on their immunizations.

  • A small minority of 11- to 14- year olds foster care children reported smoking (1 percent), drinking (8 percent) or using other drugs (7 percent) in the last month.
  • Nearly half of foster children have a clinical level of behavioral or emotional problems (47 percent of 6- to 11-year olds and 40 percent of 12- to 14-year olds). They are about four times as likely to have a high level of problems compared to other children.
  • Young children in foster care (ages 2 months to 2 years) show troubling signs of developmental problems. Nearly 60 percent of these children can be described as at high risk for a clinical level of impairment; only nine percent are at low risk.
  • School-age children in foster care are about twice as likely as other children to be poorly engaged in school (39 percent versus 18 percent).
  • Most children in foster care report having a positive relationship with their caregiver or another adult (76 percent said they feel “quite a bit” or “very close” to their caregiver, and 97 percent said they had a trusted adult they could turn to for help).

The brief also provides a set of potential policy suggestions that include more support and training for foster parents and better service integration for parents and children.

Child Trends, founded in 1979, is an independent, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers.