Foster Care - Child Trends

Percentage Distribution of All Children in Foster Care, ... Definition. Foster care is a living arrangement for children who a child protective services worker or a.
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Foster Care

Updated: December 2015

  

Foster Care December 2015

In 2012, 397,000 children were in foster care, a 30 percent decline from the 1999 peak of 567,000, and a number lower than any seen in any of the past 25 years. In 2014, the number had increased to 415,000.

Importance 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 a risk of maltreatment, including neglect and physical or sexual abuse. Because of their history, children in foster care are more likely than other children to exhibit high levels of behavioral and emotional problems. They are also more likely to be suspended or expelled from school, and to exhibit low levels of school engagement and involvement with extracurricular activities. Children in foster care are also more likely to have received mental health services in the past year, to have a limiting physical, learning, or mental health condition, or to be in poor or fair health.1 One study found that almost 60 percent of young children (ages two months to two years) in foster care were at a high risk for a developmental delay or neurological impairment.2 Nearly half of children in foster care, according to another study, had had four or more “adverse family experiences”— potentially traumatic events that are associated with multiple poor outcomes— in childhood and adulthood.3 Youth who “age out” of foster care (instead of returning home or being adopted) may face challenges to making a successful transition to adulthood. According to the only national study of youth aging out of foster care, 38 percent had emotional problems, 50 percent had used illegal drugs, and 25 percent were involved with the legal system. Preparation for further education and career was also a problem for these young people. Only 48 percent of foster youth who had “aged out” of the system had graduated from high school at the time of discharge, and only 54 percent had graduated from high school two to four years after discharge. As adults, children who spent long periods of time in multiple foster care homes were more likely than other children to encounter problems such as unemployment, homelessness, and incarceration, as well as to experience early pregnancy.4,5 Former foster care youth may also be more likely, as young adults, to have multiple chronic health conditions (even after controlling for economic status).6 Another vulnerable group in foster care is teen parents. Both before and after the birth of their child, teen mothers in foster care are less likely to have a stable home environment. Although child welfare laws permit pregnant teens to continue living with their foster families,

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Foster Care December 2015

provided the family is willing and able to have an infant in their household, a number of state regulations may pose barriers to maintaining this continuity.7

Trends 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 by 2012 (preliminary estimate). Since then, the number has increased, to 415,000 in 2014 (preliminary estimate). Similarly, the rate of children living in foster care increased from 6.2 per 1,000 children in 1990, to 8.1 per 1,000 children in 1999, before decreasing to 5.4 per 1,000 in 2012—the lowest figure in two decades. By 2014, the rate had increased to 5.6 per 1,000. (Figure 1)

1,000

The Number and Rate of Children in Foster Care Ages 17 and Under: 1990-2014*

900

Number (in 1,000s)

600 500 400

9.0

7.8 7.9

800 700

10.0

Foster children (left axis) Foster children per 1,000 children ages 17 and under (right axis) 7.3

7.1

8.0

6.9

7.0

6.2 5.6 5.6 559 567 552 545 5