April 13, 2020

Latest Figures Released as the Coronavirus Crisis Took Hold Show More Than 400,000 Kids in Foster Care

The COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed in-person contact among children, families and social workers and left systems struggling to function. It’s a scenario that leaves a vulnerable population — children in foster care — even more vulnerable.

Although we don’t know exactly how many kids were in foster care when the coronavirus crisis began, the most recent available data indicates that there were 424,653 children in foster care in 2018. This figure — produced by Child Trends, which analyzed data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System — may aid state governments and other stakeholders as they look for ways to help children negotiate this unprecedented challenge.

The 2018 count is down slightly from 2017, a year that may end up being viewed as a peak tied to the opioid epidemic. In each of the years from 2015 through 2018, about 6 out of every 1,000 children were in the foster care system.

Breakdowns of the nation’s foster care population by race and ethnicity and by age group and gender can be found on the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Center.

Unsurprisingly because of their size, California (47,706 children) and Texas (32,776) had the largest numbers of children in foster care in 2018. The highest rates per 1,000 children were found in some of the country’s most rural states: West Virginia (19 children per 1,000), Montana (17) and Alaska (15). The states with the lowest rates — all 3 per 1,000 children — were Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Utah and Virginia.

Between 2017 and 2018, the foster care systems of 10 states — Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia — recorded increases in their rates per 1,000 children. Eight states and the District of Columbia registered decreases.

View children in foster care by state >

These figures only cover children in the U.S. foster care system — that is, boys and girls ages 0 to 17. Many states extend foster care benefits to young adults, who are not included in this update.