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Many child protection systems in America are badly broken, and as a result, children can be seriously harmed. Some will be separated from their brothers and sisters. Others are transferred from one foster institution to another, never knowing when their lives will be rootless the next time. Too many will be subject to further abuse in the systems that are supposed to protect them. And instead of safely reuniting with their families or quickly moving into foster families, many will languish in foster homes or institutions for years.

The state of foster care is constantly developing and changing. Not two years – or even months – are the same because there are constant changes that affect the institution and how the system works. Let’s take a quick look at the current statistics of the foster care system.

How many children are in foster care nationwide?

There are about 440,000 adopted children throughout the country. Despite the efforts of the child protection service to prevent the weaning of children from their parents, the number of children in foster care is growing. We are currently at an all-time high as demand for foster parents far outstrips supply, and factors such as parental opioid dependence are forcing more children to leave their homes.

Foster Care statistics 2020

  • According to the annual report of The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), in 2019, more than 672,000 children were in foster care in the United States.
  • On average, children remain in state custody for more than one and a half years, and five percent of children in foster families languish there for five or more years.
  • In 2019, more than 17,000 young people left foster families without permanent families.
  • Despite the widespread belief that, the majority of children in foster care are very young, the average age of children entering foster care is 8 years.
  • While most children in foster care live in a family setting, a significant minority about 10 percent lives in institutions or group homes.
  • In 2019, more than 71,000 children whose parental rights were deprived of parental rights by law were awaiting adoption.
  • In 2019-2020 a third of the children who entered foster care in the United States were young people of color.

Research (Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth: Outcomes at Age 26 by Mark Courtney and fellows) has shown that those who leave care without being permanently associated with their families are more likely than young people in general to experience homelessness, unemployment and imprisonment as adults. While states must act quickly to find safe, permanent homes for children, every day, children available for adoption spend an average of about one and a half years waiting for adoption since their parental rights end.

It is clear that additional resources are needed to ensure the fundamental promise of the child protection system: every child deserves the opportunity to grow up in a safe, stable and loving family. Investing in prevention and early intervention can prevent children from the trauma of abuse, neglect and family separation. Specialized treatment services for children and families already in foster care can help move children quickly and safely out of foster care. By providing postnatal services after the child leaves foster care, communities can ensure that these families are strong, safe and stable.


  • Adoption & Foster Care Statistics U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau.
  • Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth: Outcomes at Age 26 Mark E. Courtney, School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.
  • Annual report of The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) 2019.

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