Policy Priorities

Policy Priorities image of kids

Foster Care

There are 408,425 children in foster care; over 360,000 are in foster family homes, group homes or child care institutions during the course of a year. These children face enormous challenges in getting the health and mental health care, education and other special services they need. Although foster care is intended to be temporary, many children stay in foster care for long periods of time. They move frequently from one temporary family home to another, often with little notice. Moves often mean having to adjusting to a new a neighborhood, school and friends among other things. Older foster youth without permanent families need help transitioning from foster care to adulthood, since they lack the supports families provide. Without help they are at increased risk of not graduating from high school or not enrolling in college, unemployment, incarceration and homelessness.

The youths pay and society pays when these youth are forced to leave foster care at age 18 without an education, connections to their families and communities, or the supports they need to succeed as adults.

The Children’s Defense Fund works to ensure that children:

  • enter foster care only when they cannot be safely cared for by family
  • are safe
  • get appropriate basic supports and special help
  • find permanent, nurturing families (“permanency”) through reunification, adoption or legal guardianship in a timely fashion

CDF is working to ensure children and youth in foster care truly benefit from the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. The act promotes permanent families for youths in foster care through relative guardianship and adoption. It improves education and health care for children and youth in foster care. It also extends federal support for the first time for youth to age 21, helping older foster youth in their transition from foster care to adulthood. The act also offers many American Indian children important federal protections and support for the first time.

New Report - A Call to Action on Behalf of Maltreated Infants and Toddlers

Infants and toddlers are the age group most vulnerable to child abuse and neglect and the largest group of children entering foster care. Just as their brains are undergoing dramatic development, these young children experience maltreatment that can lead to permanent damage to the brain’s architecture and lifelong problems. When not attuned to developmental needs, child welfare practices can compound this damage. CDF, in collaboration with ZERO TO THREE and other early childhood and child welfare organizations, recently released A Call to Action on Behalf of Maltreated Infants and Toddlers, with recommendations for policies, programs and practices to better address the developmental needs of infants and toddlers who come to the attention of the child welfare system. It provides a starting point for federal, state, and local policymakers and administrators to assess and identify where and how they can revise or institute policies and practices that protect the development of infants and toddlers and their safety.

New Child Welfare Statistics - The Number of Children in Foster Care Continues to Decline

The latest Adoption and Foster Care Reporting and Analysis System (AFCARS) data for fiscal year 2010 indicate several recent improvements in states’ foster care programs.  In 2010 there were 408,425 children in foster care – representing a 26 percent drop in the number of children in foster care a decade ago. Some of the other notable improvements, such as decreases in the length of time in care and increases in the number of children adopted, can likely be credited at least in part to new federal policies that help children who are in or at risk of entering the child welfare system. Read more about the latest AFCARS data and the other trends in foster care highlighted in 2010 AFCARS report.

AFCARS is a national data system operated by the Children’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that collects information on all children in foster care through state public child welfare agencies and those adopted through public agencies.   It tracks the number of children who entered and exited foster care, demographics of children in foster care (such as age, race, ethnicity, and gender), and other characteristics such as length of time in care, placement type, and the number of children who are adopted.