Fifty State Chart Book

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14. Children in Foster Care

Safety is tantamount to a child’s health and development. All states have child protective services systems which seek to keep children safe from maltreatment (abuse or neglect) in their homes.  This includes placing children into foster care when state laws and practices determine that they cannot remain safe in their own homes. Currently, approximately 400,000 US children and youth are in foster care. 

There is a higher prevalence of foster care in the early (birth to five) years (the most critical years for bonding, attachment and consistency in nurturing) due to determinations of parental neglect and “failure to thrive” among very young children. 

What Can the Data Tell Us?

States vary widely in the proportion of children placed into foster care, their definitions of child abuse and neglect, and in the practices and resources they have in place to provide substitute care. In all states, however, there is overrepresentation (including “disproportionate overrepresentation,” meaning a greater share than would be expected given the prevalence of safety-threatening conditions in the home) of African American and American Indian/Native American children in foster care. While poverty and its stresses contribute to this overrepresentation, socio-economic status alone cannot account for the differences. In some states the ratio of placement of African American children to white children ages 0 – 4 years into care can be as much as > 4 to 1 (Table 23). 

Table 23.

It is possible to develop state-level data on the young child population, but this requires separate analyses for each state. While placement rates are higher for the ages 0-5 population, the overall rates of placement into foster care for children and youth (ages 0-17) offer a good general picture of placement rates by different racial categories and are provided in Table 24.

Table 24.  Foster care placement rates among children age 0-4, U.S. and states (per 1,000 Children), 2012