Understanding child welfare and foster care statistics allows organizations to create and implement policies that protect, heal, and serve children and families.
The child welfare system is comprised of many organizations that work jointly to keep families together and protect vulnerable children. Some of these include local public agencies, like departments of social services or child and family services, and federal organizations, like the Children's Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.
Federal, state, and local organizations work with one another, private child welfare agencies, and community-based programs to provide essential services to youth and families in need. These services include but are not limited to, foster care, family therapy, substance use treatment, parenting classes, employment assistance, and mental health care.
The child welfare system is vast and complex. It’s important for every organization involved to frequently monitor relevant statistics, so they can make necessary changes to their programs.
Researching and analyzing child welfare data helps leaders determine what helps adolescents and families and what needs to be adjusted. With this knowledge, everyone from local to federal organizations can implement new policies and practices designed to help those who need it most.
Child Welfare Statistics
The KIDS COUNT Data Center provides some of the most current and robust child welfare statistics. Their data sources include the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, the federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, and the National Youth in Transition Database.
The information presented in KIDS COUNT Data Center and other sources used in this article is incredibly useful for organizations like ours. We evaluate these statistics to ensure our family preservation program meets the needs of vulnerable youth and their families.
How Many Children are in the Welfare System?
According to KIDS COUNT Data Center, over 600,000 children (under 18) are in the welfare system due to maltreatment.
- 41% are 0-4 years
- 31% are 5-10 years
- 14% are 11-13 years
- 15% are 14-17 years
- 52% are female
- 48% are male
- Neglect is the most common reason (76% of cases) children enter the welfare system. Followed by physical abuse (16%) and sexual abuse (9%).
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, children of color disproportionately represent the number of adolescents in the system. Their research shows the following:
- African-American youth represent 14% of the total child population yet account for 23% of the foster care system.
- Children of Black families are overrepresented in cases of suspected maltreatment and Child Protective Services investigations, spend more time in foster care, and are less likely to reunite with their families.
Impact on Youth Mental Health, Health, and School Outcomes
Children who experience trauma are at an increased risk of developing mental health issues. Mental health disorders can lead an individual to participate in risky behaviors, such as gang activity, interacting with negative peers, dropping out of school, substance use, and neglecting medical attention.
According to KIDS COUNT Data Center, the following U.S. child welfare statistics are true:
- An average of about 23% of children have one or more emotional, behavioral, or developmental conditions.
- 4% (954,000) of youth aged 12 to 17 in the juvenile justice system reported dependence on or abuse of illicit drugs or alcohol from 2017-2018.
- 16% of children do not graduate on time.
- 10% of minors (over 7 million) are not in excellent or very good health.
Foster Care Statistics
Examining foster care statistics separately from child welfare data allows organizations involved with foster care to make decisions that will positively impact the youth they work with directly. Not every individual involved in the child welfare system is placed into the foster care system, and vice versa.
How Many Children are in the Foster Care System?
According to the most recent KIDS COUNT data (2020), there are approximately 407,383 children in the foster care system.
- 7% are under 1 year
- 34% are 1-5 years
- 22% are 6-10 years
- 22% are 11-15 years
- 14% are 16-20 years
- 51% are male
- 49% are female
- Most children (45%) are placed in a non-relative foster family home, 34% are placed in a relative foster family home, and 10% are placed in a group home or institution.
- There are over 100,000 children in foster care who are awaiting adoption. These children represent those whose parental rights have been terminated.
A focus on physical and mental well-being is crucial for youth in foster care. Children are often placed into a foster home after experiencing maltreatment and trauma, which can cause an array of mental health concerns. Ensuring that vulnerable youth get the mental health care they need will make them more likely to have a healthy and successful future.
Mental Health Concerns in the Foster Care System
Research shows that children in the foster care system have significant mental health concerns and that those needs are often not met. Furthermore, youth with mental health disorders tend to stay in the system longer, experience more frequent replacement, participate in criminal activities, and have poor education.
The Department of Health and Human Services states that approximately 90% of children in foster care have been exposed to trauma. In many cases, the experience of maltreatment is exacerbated by the removal from their families and poor out-of-home placements. This compounded trauma can impact proper physical, cognitive, social, and emotional functioning and lead to addiction, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Evidence-Based Family Preservation Program Designed to Help Youth and Families
Functional Family Therapy through Child Welfare (FFT-CW)—an adaptation of FFT—is an evidence-based family preservation program designed to provide services to youth (0-18 years old) and families in child welfare settings.
FFT-CW programs are designed to increase motivation for change, support healthy habits within individuals and family units, and address a variety of risk factors that often result in children entering foster care and/or the termination of parental rights.
Research has shown that families who participate in this program are 50% less likely to have new allegations when the initial referral involved domestic violence and mental health concerns and 3.5 times less likely to have a child placed out of the home.
Further, this research demonstrated that “families who participated in Functional Family Therapy-Child Welfare (FFT-CW) were more likely to achieve all planned treatment goals, compared with families who received services as usual.”
The results of the research provide compelling evidence that FFT-CW is effective at keeping families together, improving youth and parental relationships, and keeping children safe – mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Here at FFT LLC, we bring Functional Family Therapy to over 40,000 families a year across the globe. With respect to FFT-CW, FFT LLC is currently providing services to 80 teams of providers that are at risk or involved with child welfare and foster care systems. To maintain positive outcomes, FFT LLC provides clinical oversight and ongoing research to ensure that all FFT providers adhere to the evidence-based practice standards. Contact us for more information about our evidence-based youth and family counseling services.