NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Adoption from Foster Care

February 6, 2014

Hundreds of thousands of children enter the foster care system each year. Most are reunited with family members, but many children spend years in the system. Thousands of 18 year olds age out of foster care each year, says Alexander M. Bachik, a research associate with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

  • In 2012, 254,162 children entered the foster care system, and as of September 2012, approximately 399,546 children nationwide were living in foster care.
  • The good news: Most children spend relatively little time in foster care, with 46 percent leaving the system less than a year after they enter it.
  • But the darker picture shows that the longer a child stays in foster care, the less likely he or she is to ever leave the system other than by aging out.

Children arrive in foster care for a variety of reasons, ranging from abuse and neglect to parental drug use to simple parental abandonment. The goal for most children is reunification with their parents, provided the child's home situation improves.

  • More than half (52 percent) of the children in the system are eventually reunited with their families, and 8 percent go to live with other relatives.
  • One-fifth (20 percent) are adopted.
  • However, more than one-in-ten (11 percent) of all children in foster care stay in the system until they become adults.
  • Unfortunately, about 30 percent of those who are reunited with their families will eventually return to the foster care system.
  • In 2012, 101,666, or about one in four of the 397,122 children in foster care, were eligible for adoption.
  • However, about 10 percent of adoptable children will age out of the system without ever finding a permanent home.

For children who reach 18 years of age still living in foster care, life holds a bleaker outlook than for kids who are adopted. For example:

  • Twenty-four percent of children who age out of foster care have reported being homeless;
  • Forty-two percent of males and 20 percent of females report being arrested; and
  • Forty-two percent will not have a high-school diploma at age 19.

The backgrounder explores barriers to adoption in the current system, subsidies for adoption and foster care, and alternatives to foster care, including orphanages.

Source: Alexander M. Bachik, "Adoption from Foster Care," National Center for Policy Analysis, February 2014.


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