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Must-See Foster Care Adoption Statistics

The faces, stories and realities behind foster care adoption statistics are always nuanced and complex. It can be tempting to look at numbers and try to paint a black-and-white image of perceived problems or solutions, but the foster-to-adopt research represents the real lives of children and parents. 

Still, the numbers can be a useful tool to better understand the big picture of foster care — not only its scope, but also how it’s working and where it could be improved. U.S. adoption and foster care statistics are constantly changing, but one thing will always stay the same — everyone wants the best for children, and we all hope to continually improve how foster care can serve them. Foster care adoptions statistics can offer an insightful look at complex situations. Here are some of the statistics that everyone should learn about:

How Are Statistics on Foster Care and Adoption Collected?

All states report their foster care case details to The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), which is under the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. AFCARS releases an annual report of its findings. It can take a while for the most current data to be collected, analyzed and processed, but the foster care and adoption statistics below, like most verified adoption and foster care facts, come from those reports. 

What are the Current Trends in Foster Care and Adoption?

Trends in adoption and fostering are ever-changing. Currently, the ongoing opioid crisis is one of the largest influences in recent trend shifts. As a result of the opioid crisis, more children are being placed in temporary foster care — up 2.3% from 2018 to 2019, putting the number of children in foster care to 437,465. This number has consistently risen every year since 2012.

The most recent AFCARS report stated 92,107 children were removed from their homes in 2019 due to parental drug use, which was a 7% increase from the year prior. 61% of the children entering care were there due to neglect. Parental drug use is often an exacerbating factor in neglect. Neglect cases, as well as cases where children have been abusing drugs, have grown by 3%, according to the most recent report.

Indiana, Georgia and Minnesota were some of the states that reported the largest one-year spikes in foster care intakes, although they weren’t the only ones. Indiana’s increase was the sharpest at 18% compared to the previous year. 

Ohio, for one, is struggling to find kinship placements for children in care, due to the number of family members in the state who are drug users. Although the AFCARS reports don’t specify the type of drugs that were being abused, hospitals are reporting higher cases of prescription drug abuse, especially opioids, which is why this is the suspected culprit. 

However, despite the increase in children entering foster care, there are positive trends. As of the most recent report, 3,652 more children were adopted from foster care than the previous year. In that year alone, 57,208 children were adopted, increasing the adoption rate 13% in two years. 52% of those adoptions were completed by the child’s foster parents. 

Children whose biological parents’ rights had been terminated and were waiting for adoption spent an average of 31.2 months in care. Fortunately, since 2009, that time has decreased every year and will hopefully continue to decrease so that children wait less time for a family.

More good news — the number of children who “age out” of foster care has been on a steady decline for nine years. In 2016, 20,532 youths “aged out” — a 45% decrease over the past ten years, which suggests that improved efforts to support older children in foster care have been successful. The most recent AFCARS report noted that of the 250,248 children who left the foster care system in that year, 89% had been permanently adopted or reunited with their biological families.

How Many Kids in Foster Care Get Adopted?

In 2018, 63,100 kids were adopted from foster care. 71,300 had their parents’ legal rights terminated, and 125,000 were awaiting adoption that same year. 

25% of all children who exited foster care that year did so through a permanent adoption. 49% were reunified with their original families, which is always the first goal that’s considered when a child enters care. Second to reunification, adoption was the most common reason for exiting foster care. 

How Many Foster Kids Never Get Adopted and “Age Out?”

As of the most recent report, 17,844 youths in foster care were emancipated, which means they “aged out.” This accounts for 7% of all the youths who exited foster care that year. Again, this number has fortunately decreased every year for the past decade and will hopefully continue to decline as more families consider adopting older children and teens

However, for the 17,844 youths who did age out, they may not have the family support they deserve, want and need to succeed in the world. 

What are the Statistics of Adopting an Infant through Foster Care?

As of the most recent report, infants comprised 18% of all children entering foster care in the U.S. Again, the majority of children will ultimately be reunited with their original families after a temporary stay with a foster family. 

The infants who are reunified with biological families may return to foster care when they are older, either temporarily or with the new goal of permanent adoption, but these reports don’t track those numbers. 

The average age of children adopted in the past year was 6 years old. So, it’s relatively rare for an infant to be adopted through foster care. Older child adoptions are more common.

What is the Percentage of Foster Adoptions that Do Not Work?

Between 1 and 5 percent of legal adoptions within the U.S. are dissolved, by estimates.

Child welfare experts track the common factors in these sad situations and try to identify certain placements as being at-risk for disruptions. By identifying how and why adoptions dissolve, public agencies hope to decrease (or even eliminate) the number of “failed” adoptions. 

Some of the contributing factors to adoption dissolutions that have been identified include a child’s age, exposure to sexual abuse, an adoptive parent not having previously fostered the child or having unrealistic expectations, or an agency not adequately preparing the adoptive parents. Using knowledge like this, it’s hoped that parents and agencies can work together to prevent dissolved adoptions. 

General Facts about Adoption and Foster Care

There are sometimes pervading misconceptions regarding the children in care, as well as the rate at which children enter and exit care. Learning some more foster care and adoption facts can be helpful in understanding these children’s experiences. You may be surprised by some of these foster care adoption numbers:

  • The average age of a child in foster care is 8 years old
  • 52% of the children in care are male; 48% are female
  • 46% were living in the foster home of a non-relative; 32% were being fostered by relatives
  • 44% of the children in care are white, 23% are Black or African American, and 21% are Hispanic (of any race)
  • The average time spent in foster care was 20 months
  • 25% of adoptive parents through foster care were single females, while 3% were single males

Be sure to continue exploring our guides on foster care and adoption to learn more about the children in care, how the foster-to-adopt process works and more.