The Foster Care System
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, foster care is temporary care provided to children who cannot live with their parents or guardians. (1) When a child is removed from their home due to abuse or neglect, the state agency has the responsibility to care for them and provide them with a place to live.
On any given day in the United States, there are approximately 440,000 children living in foster care. These children range from newborns to 21 years old and, on average, will remain in state care for more than a year. (2) In many cases, children move from placement to placement and experience little stability while in the dependency system.
While the big screen may have us believe that foster care is a time of hope and long-awaited respite, the reality is that it is often a complex and frightening experience for a child. It is during this time that they need the support of a caring adult more than ever.
When an allegation of abuse or neglect is made, a judge determines whether that allegation is true and whether the court should step in to care for the youth. Once the court intervenes, a judge continues to oversee the child’s case and make decisions about their future. To make the most informed decisions, judges rely on a network of caring professionals who together work to provide support, care, and advocacy to children during their time in foster care.
- Each family is provided with a social worker, who supports more than 25 families at a time and prioritizes the immediate health and safety concerns for all of the children on their caseloads.
- An attorney is assigned to each child and is tasked with providing legal representation to more than 100 clients at a time.
- A child will be placed in a resource home (commonly known as a foster home) with resource parents, in a group home with staff, or with relative caregivers.
- A child can be matched with a CASA – a Court Appointed Special Advocate. A CASA is a community volunteer and is matched with just one child or sibling group at a time, enabling them to provide individualized support.
National Foster Care Statistics
- In recent years, more than 670,000 children have experienced foster care in the United States annually. (4)
- In 2017, 9 out of every 1,000 children in the United States were determined to be victims of abuse or neglect. (2)
- 14% of children in foster care have languished there for three or more years. (4)
- Of children who entered foster care in 2019, 48% were five years old or younger at the time they entered the system. (4)
- 25% of foster children experience PTSD (twice the rate of U.S. war veterans), and tend to suffer high rates of debilitating depression and low self-esteem. (3)
California Foster Care Statistics
- In recent years, more than 80,000 children have experienced foster care in California annually. (5)
- In 2018, 59% of 12th-graders in foster care graduated high school with their cohort, compared to 83% of all students. (6)
- Only 3% of former foster youth earn a college degree. (9)
- Nearly 50% of individuals are unemployed within four years of exiting foster care; more than 25% are incarcerated; and 20% experience homelessness. (9)
San Diego County Foster Care Statistics
- In recent years, more than 3,500 children have spent time in San Diego County's foster care system annually. (10)
- In recent years, approximately 1,200 children have entered foster care in San Diego County annually. (7)
- In FY2020-2021, 60% of children who entered foster care in San Diego County were 5 years old or younger. (7)
Riverside County Foster Care Statistics
- In recent years, more than 4,000 children have spent time in Riverside County’s foster care system annually. (10)
- In recent years, between 1,200 and 1,600 children have entered foster care in Riverside County annually. (8)
- In 2020, 52% of children who entered foster care in Riverside County were 5 years old or younger. (8)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Child Welfare
Child Welfare League of America
National CASA Association
San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency Child Welfare Services
University of California at Berkeley Child Welfare Indicators Project
You can help.
Children who find themselves in the foster care system need someone to speak up for them. Learn how you can give a child a voice.
Sources: (1) US Department of Health and Human Services (2) National CASA Association (3) Casey Family Foundation (4) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, Children’s Bureau, The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System Report (AFCARS) (5) California CASA Association (6) California Department of Education (7) San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency Child Welfare Services (8) University of California at Berkeley Child Welfare Indicators Project (9) California Legislative Analyst’s Office (10) Voices for Children