The White House recently announced that:
"More than 130,000 of the 565,000 American children in foster care, ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers, are waiting to be adopted. On average, these children have been in foster care for almost four years. Most of these children have special needs that limit their ability to be adopted, such as being part of a sibling group that wishes to stay together, belonging to a particular ethnic group, or having physical or emotional challenges."
Foster children are children who are orphaned or have been taken from their birth parents by the state due to unsatisfactory circumstances. A good deal of foster children end up in the program due to neglect, abuse, and/or poverty. They may be placed with unrelated foster parents, relatives, families intending to adopt them, or in residential treatment centers. The foster child program was designed to be a temporary response to crises in families, and it is expected that the children will either be returned to their parents as soon as possible or will find good care through adoption or placement with relatives. However, many children end up in foster care for expended periods of time, and some "age out" (meaning that they turn 18) and go to live on their own.
The number of children in foster care has increased as dramatically over the last few decades for a variety of reasons. In 1962 about 270,000 were in foster care, and now the number is up to 588,000. The number dropped in the early 80s due to the adoption of the Child Welfare Act, but then began to rise again in the mid 80s. the general trend is that more children enter foster care each hear than leave it. For example, for the 6 month period between October 1999 and march 2000, 146,000 kids entered the foster care program, and 124,000 kids exited.
A major trend that is impacting foster care is the rising reports of child abuse and neglect. In the 1960s, reports of child abuse numbered roughly 10,000, the number rose to 60,000 in 1974, 1.1 million in 1980, and almost 3 million in 1999. Close to 40% of reported cases were screened out for not being "appropriate for investigation". To break down the statistics further, in 2001 58% of the substantiated reports involved neglect, 21% involved physical abuse, and 11% involved sexual abuse.
Another contributing factor to the high numbers of kids in foster care is the fact that many of them end up re-entering the program. Information on re-entry cases are limited, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reported an average national rate of 17%, with some states such as New York having percentages as high as 20%.
Many children also end up foster care for extended periods of time. in 1997 the average was 21 months, and in Washington D.C. the amount was 30 months. during that time, almost a quarter of the kids had 3 or more houses they had been moved around to, 8% of which had 5 or 6 families, another 8% had 7 families or more. only roughly 11% of kids in 2001 were unter 1 years old when they went into care, and the majority of kids are over 11.
The number of willing participants who will be foster parents has been decreasing due to the low reimbursement rates to care for the kids. The average monthly amount in 1996 was $356 for kids age 2, $373 for kids age 9, and $431 for kids age 16. Also, many of the children who had been severely abused or neglected have post- traumatic stress symptoms as well as other behavioral issues that foster parents may have to deal with.
The Foster Care Independence Act was passed in the United States in 1999 in order to help kids who had aged out of the system. A great deal of children who turn 18 and are dismissed from the program are ill-equipped to live on their own. The Act was designed to help the kids get on their feet with vocational training, job search training, and job placement. Many states had been offering said services prior to 1999, but the Act makes it mandatory that the aged out children receive some help if it is determined that they need it.
Also, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services began to require that each state conduct periodic reviews of its federally funded child welfare services in 2001, which includes foster care programs. They are supposed to check on child safety and child well-being. The foster care system has been under attack as of late because of a girl in Florida who had disappeared for over a year and her social worker had been falsifying documents.
For an Index of foster child care agencies in the United States, please see: http://www.kinderstart.com/adoption/adoptionfostercareagencies/unitedstates/
Statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services found in the Children's Bureau's Federal Child Welfare Programs Today