April 13, 2020

Age and Gender Characteristics of U.S. Foster Care Population Remain Consistent

The age and gender distributions of kids in the U.S. foster care system have not changed much over the years, and the latest data on these two characteristics deliver no surprises.

Foster care system population by gender

Nationwide in 2018, 52% of youth in the foster care system were males and 48% were females, according to Child Trends, which analyzed data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. This same gender split has prevailed for all but one year since 2003.

In 43 states across the nation, the gender divide is such that males represent no less than 47% of the foster care population and females represent no more than 52%. Outliers include foster care systems in seven states and Puerto Rico. These exceptions are Colorado (59% male and 41% females — the largest gender gap in the nation); Tennessee (56% males and 44% females); and New Hampshire, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming and Puerto Rico (54% males and 46% females).

Many states extend foster care benefits beyond a young person’s 18th birthday, and this analysis covers youth of all ages in care.

The KIDS COUNT Data Center features new data on children in foster care by gender for each state.

Foster care system age distribution

Data on the distribution of kids in foster care by age also held steady. In both 2017 and 2018, 7% of youth in foster care were less than one year old; 35% were 1 to 5 years old; 23% were 6 to 10; 21% were 11 to 15; and 14% were 16 to 20 years old. The analysis included youth up to age 20.

At the state level, using 2018 data: Kids in foster care between the ages of 16 and 20 have the greatest range of variation in their representation. This age group swings by 21 percentage points — from a low of 5% in Maine and Oklahoma to a high of 26% in Colorado. Babies younger than one have the smallest range of variation in their representation at the state level. Their range is 5 percentage points wide, from a low of 5% in Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Vermont to a high of 10% in Maine and Oklahoma.

Detailed reviews of the total foster care population nationally and in the states and of foster care children by race and ethnicity are also available.