Foster Care Statistics

One of the great needs and opportunities in our country today is the care of over a half a million foster children. These kids have been removed from their homes when their families are in crisis and can’t take care of them (these families are in great help as well). These kids are in need of temporary families and in most States and counties there are not enough families to care for them.

To put things into perspective, one website states if things don’t change and we don’t find more families for these children then:

By the year 2020:

  • 22,500 children will die of abuse or neglect, most before their fifth birthday^
  • More than 10.5 million children will spend some time in foster care^^
  • More than 300,000 children will age out of our foster care system, some in poor health and many unprepared for success in higher education, technical college or the workforce^^^
  • 75,000 former foster youth, who aged out of the system, will experience homelessness^^^^

Here are the latest statistics from the Federal AFCARS data (2006)

Who are the children waiting in the U.S. foster care system?

  • 510,000 children in foster care nationally
  • 32% of foster children are between the ages of 0 and 5
  • 28% of foster children are between the ages of 6 and 12
  • 40% of foster children are between the ages of 13 and 21
  • Average # of birthdays a child spends in foster care: 2 birthdays (28 months)
  • Average # of placements children experience: 3
  • 17% (88,475) of children live in group care or institutional settings

What are United States’ foster children waiting for?

  • 248,054 (49%) are waiting to be reunified with their birth families
  • 127,000 (25%) are waiting to be adopted
  • Average time foster care children have been waiting to be adopted: 39.4 months

Where did the United States’ children go after leaving foster care in 2006?

  • 287,691 children exited foster care
  • 152,152 (53%) were returned to their parents
  • 49,741 (17%) were adopted
  • 45,761 (16%) left to live with relatives (some through guardianships)
  • 26,181 (9%) “aged out” or left the system at age of 18 or older
  • 12,086 (4%) left for other reasons (ran away, transferred, died)
  • 2,349 (1%) left for unknown reasons

Find statistics for your state here.

Child Welfare Statistics

The Child Welfare League of America has created the National Data Analysis System (NDAS), which is the most comprehensive collection of child welfare data available. The data contained in the NDAS illustrate the wide variation in the states’ collection of information regarding child welfare issues. View the data

Transitioning from Care

Each year, an estimated 20,000 young people “age out” of the U.S. foster care system. Many are only 18 years old and still need support and services. Several foster care alumni studies show that without a lifelong connection to a caring adult, the future of these young adults is tragic:

  • Earned a high school diploma         54%
  • Obtained a Bachelor’s degree or higher     2%
  • Became a parent                 84%
  • Were unemployed                 51%
  • Had no health insurance             30%
  • Had been homeless                 25%
  • Were receiving public assistance         30%
Sources^ In 2004, there were about 1,500 confirmed victims from abuse or neglect. See U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2006). Child Maltreatment 2004. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


^^14 Calculated by multiplying the number of children served in foster care in 2005 by 15, the number of years until 2020. This fi gure was derived by subtracting the number of children who re-entered care (about 100,000) from the number of children served by the foster care system in 2005 (about 800,000). See Child Welfare Outcomes 2003: Annual Report. Downloaded on January 3, 2007 from And The AFCARS report: Interim FY 2003 Estimates as of June 2006 (10).Downloaded on

January 3, 2007 from

^^^U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2006). The AFCARS report: Preliminary FY 2005 estimates as of September 2006. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Downloaded November 30, 2006 from (Go to and click on “Adoption and Foster Care Statistics.”)

^^^^About 25% of youth who were placed in foster care experience one of more days of homelessness after leaving care. This statistic was derived by averaging the results of a representative set of foster care alumni studies that interviewed older alumni. The studies were then weighted by study sample size so the larger studies carried more weight inthe average (Casey Research Services)

How Many Christians Would it Take to Adopt All the Adoptable Orphans in the World?

How many adoptable orphans are there in the world?

How many Christians are there?

What is percentage of Christians would it take to adopt all the orphans?

My best guess (looking at the data available, see my Orphan Statistics post) is that 40-50 million orphans worldwide are adoptable or would be best cared for through adoption. Ideally that means adoption locally/indigenously first and then adoption internationally.

As for Christians, according to Mission Frontiers, globally there are:

Christian Believers — 800 million who have been born again into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Other Christians — 1.37 billion who consider themselves Christians because they come from a Christian culture.

Culturally near non-Christians — 1.8 billion are not yet Christians but live in a people where a viable, indigenous church movement has been established.

Therefore, if roughly 6% of the born again Christians in the world adopted we could care for all the adoptable orphans in the world (I have heard 7% used and that might be true as well).

Either way you add it up, there are way too many orphans worldwide and way too many Christians to not believe we can make a difference! I’m going to go buy the domain

Orphan Statistics

These are the most recent and reliable statistics on the global orphan situation.

  • The most recent estimate is that there are approximately 145 million orphans in the world (UNICEF 2008). For this number, an orphan is defined as a child who has lost one or both parents.
  • More than 15 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS, over 11.6 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • In 2007 67.5 million Children in South Asia and East Asia had lost one or both parents due to all causes.
  • Included in the 2008 estimate of 145 million orphans are more than 92 million that have a surviving mother—-with whom they most likely live.
  • Another 38 million have a surviving father.
  • The UNICEF orphan numbers DON’T include abandonment (millions of children) as well as sold and/or trafficked children.
  • The UNICEF orphan numbers DON’T include many non-reporting nations (namely, Middle Eastern Islamic nations) where shame and divorce abandonment are rampant. 200,000 + orphans in Iraq, for instance, are not part of the count.
  • We are looking at a number quite higher than 15 million “double orphans.” Best guess is somewhere around 40 or 50 million.
  • According to data released in 2003 as many as eight million boys and girls around the world live in institutional care. Some studies have found that violence in residential institutions is six times higher than violence in foster care, and that children in group care are almost four times more likely to experience sexual abuse than children in family based care.
  • As of 2002 in Europe and Central Asia, over one million children lived in residential institutions.
  • Worldwide an estimated 300 million children are subjected to violence, exploitation and abuse, including the worst forms of child labour in communities, schools and institutions, during armed conflict, and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage.
  • In the US there are approximately 500,000 children in foster care (Based on data submitted by states as of January 16, 2008)
  • 130,000 of those children in foster care are waiting and available for adoption. Children waiting to be adopted include children with a goal of adoption and/or whose parental rights have been terminated. Children whose parental rights have been terminated, who are 16 years old and older, and who have a goal of emancipation are excluded from the “waiting” population. An individual child is included in the count for each year that he or she has these characteristics on the last day of the year.
  • Approximately 51,000 children are adopted from the foster system each year.
  • That leaves 79,000 children annually in the US needing an adoptive family.
  • Each year, an estimated 20,000 young people “age out” of the U.S. foster care system. Many are only 18 years old and still need support and services. Several foster care alumni studies show that without a lifelong connection to a caring adult, these older youth are often left vulnerable to a host of adverse situations:

Earned a high school diploma         54%
Obtained a Bachelor’s degree or higher     2%
Became a parent                 84%
Were unemployed                 51%
Had no health insurance             30%
Had been homeless                 25%
Were receiving public assistance         30%

Sources:,,, Young adults ages 18-24 years old 2.5 to 4 years after leaving foster care: Cook, R. (1992). Are we helping foster care youth prepare for the future? Children and Youth Services Review. 16(3/4), 213-229. Cook, R.; Fleishman, E., & Grimes, V. (1989). A National Evaluation of Title IV-E Foster Care Independent Living Programs for Youth (Phase 2 Final Report, Volume 1). Rockville: Westat, Inc.,,

I list these statistics with a broken heart and realization that each number represents a real, living child who is in desperate need of care and a family. We can become easily overwhelmed with these statistics but I pray for my self and for the church that they would lead us to pray more specifically and passionately for them. I pray they will move us to act with greater urgency to see each one of these children cared for in the name of Christ.

“Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

How Many Orphans Are There? Update

When it comes to the number of orphans that exist in the world you hear a lot of different estimates. The more I think about it the bottom line is that there are way too many! When you get into the hundred millions it can be overwhelming.

That said, it is important as I posted before, to know the numbers and to know what makes up the number of orphans worldwide so that we can most effectively reach them and care for them. Jedd Medefind recently posted the updated UNICEF estimates and breakdown:

  • The official 2008 estimate from UNICEF (based on 2007 data) is 145 million orphans in the world. For this number, an orphan is defined as a child who has lost one or both parents.
  • For the “developing world” the total estimated number of orphans is 130 million. This includes statistics for Sub Saharan Africa, the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Since most people think of an orphan as a child who has lost both parents, these numbers can seem a bit misleading.

  • Included in the 2008 estimate of 145 million orphans are more than 92 million that have a surviving mother—-with whom they most likely live.
  • Another 38 million have a surviving father.

Doing the math, of the 145 million estimated orphans worldwide, approximately 15 million are “double” orphans—growing up without either mother or father.  That’s about ten percent of the whole.

Remember, these numbers represent children. Sons and daughters. Children that need care and children that need parents. Each of us can do something to make a difference in their lives. For some it will be visiting them with aid, for others it will be reducing the number of double orphans through adoption, one, two, three at a time!

The Lie We Love and the Current Face of the Orphan Crisis

A recent article published on has been circulating more widely and bringing up major questions for the adoption community. How should we respond to it? Here are my initial thoughts. I would love to hear your comments as well.

In the article titled, The Lie We Love, E.J. Graff writes that:

“Westerners have been sold the myth of a world orphan crisis. We are told that millions of children are waiting for their “forever families” to rescue them from lives of abandonment and abuse. But many of the infants and toddlers being adopted by Western parents today are not orphans at all. Yes, hundreds of thousands of children around the world do need loving homes. But more often than not, the neediest children are sick, disabled, traumatized, or older than 5. They are not the healthy babies that, quite understandably, most Westerners hope to adopt. There are simply not enough healthy, adoptable infants to meet Western demand—and there’s too much Western money in search of children. As a result, many international adoption agencies work not to find homes for needy children but to find children for Western homes.”

Graff goes on to reason with statistics and historical data that there has been widespread corruption when it comes to international adoption. In particular, she argues that international adoption is an industry largely driven by money and states that if the finances were to be removed from the process “the number of healthy babies needing Western homes would all but disappear.” Another major factor is that international adoption is less regulated, opening it up to corruption and human trafficking.

Graff also looks at the false claim that there are “millions of orphaned babies around the world desperately” needing homes. She says, “UNICEF itself is partly responsible for this erroneous assumption” as their statistics are largley quoted as the authority and justification for international adoption.

I wrote awhile back on this very thing and appreciate Graff’s point here. The total number of orphans that UNICEF reports is 132 million (2008), but the definition of orphan they use includes children that have lost just one parent. Those who have lost both parents are just 10 percent of that total – 13 million. It is also crucial for us to note that most of these 13 million are living with extended family and 95 percent are older than 5 years old. That makes roughly 650,000 orphans under the age of 5. A much different picture than “143 million orphans.” I don’t think everyone who has used the 143 million number really believes that they are all adoptable and that we can adopt them all but it is important for us to get our statistics as correct as possible as this has massive implications on our approach to live out James 1:27 and care for the “orphans”  of the world. For one, it sheds light on the sheer fact that over 95 percent of these children probably need to be provided in-country care and support for their extended family and community that is caring for them more than adoption. And, when it comes to adoption, these figures shed light on the great need to adopt older orphans.

Graff goes on to highlight cases of corruption in international adoption from Guatamala and admits that the example of Guatamala is extreme. But she notes, “the same troubling trends have emerged, on smaller scales, in more than a dozen other countries,” where the “supply of adoptable babies rises to meet foreign demand – and disappears when Western cash is no longer available.”

In describing the corruption, she writes, “To smooth the adoption process, officials in the children’s home countries may be bribed to create false identity documents. Consular officials for the adopting countries generally accept whatever documents they receive. But if a local U.S. Embassy has seen a series of worrisome referrals—say, a sudden spike in healthy infants coming from the same few orphanages, or a single province sending an unusually high number of babies with suspiciously similar paperwork—officials may investigate. But generally, they do not want to obstruct adoptions of genuinely needy children or get in the way of people longing for a child.”

In the end, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us, I think this is an important article that sheds light on a great evil that we cannot ignore. But I believe we must have discernment. I fear that many who read this article will dismiss it as more “anti-adoption” literature. Others will take it to heart and dismiss international adoption altogether. Either response, is going to too far, and throws the baby out with the bathwater.

What I think this article should do is lead us to even greater action when it comes to caring for the orphans of the world. No one would deny that there is corruption in the adoption world, the challenge is when it is subtle and hidden as I believe so much of this is. Is it really a bad thing for a father of a child in Ethiopia to relinquish his rights to his baby so that she can have a better life? Is it a bad thing even if he were to receive financial assistance so that he can take care of his other children that remain? Those are hard questions. We want to trust the agencies that are working on the behalf of adoptive families and the children. We want to believe that they would not coerce anyone and that adoption really is the best solution for this child. It is more complex than I would like it to be but again this should not discourage us but lead us to more vigorous work towards pursuing the best solution possible for the orphans of the world.

Where there is blatant corruption, those who are passionate for adoption ought to be just as passionate for the abolishment of modern-day slavery. The Hague Adoption Convention is also designed to protect against this very thing; and yet, as the article points out correctly, no international treaty is perfect and the Hague is not going eliminate every shady practice when it comes to adoption. Therefore, I agree with Graff that what is needed is increased accountability/partnership and improved regulations that limit the amount of money that changes hands in adoption.

This is where we can step up and be wise stewards of our resources, our time, and talents for the sake of the children. For one, we can hold the adoption agencies to account and partner with them in their mission to care for the children.

A few suggestions for doing this are:

1)  Find a reputable, Hague-accredited agency that is not only placing children for adoption but also working to care for the older orphans in country. One place to start is to makes sure the agency is a good standing member of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services. Read through the Hague site, especially: Information for Parents; U.S. Accredited Adoption Service Providers; Adoption Service Providers Denied Hague Convention Accreditation/Approval

2.) Ask questions. Ask the hard questions. Ask for information on the background of the children. Ask why their one living parent cannot care for them and why they are relinquishing their rights. Ask to see the financial statements and 990’s of the adoption agency and breakdown of where fees are going in country. We can and must report shady practices to the authorities.  We can do our homework on the agencies and share information with one another. We can warn one another when flags are raised. All that said, I understand that is difficult to do when you are in the process of adopting and you have fallen in love with a particular child that has been referred to you. Emotions are deep and strong. We want so badly to meet their needs. Maybe, the onus is on those of us who have already adopted and are not as emotionally invested in particular situations to do the needed research.

3.) Educated yourselves on the adoption law of the country from which you are adopting.  Ethica, a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of ethical adoption, encourages adoptive parents to make a commitment to educate themselves on the adoption law of the state or country from which they are adopting.

4.) Partner with your agency (and other organizations) to help them care for the needs in country that lead to abandonment and the existence of orphans (HIV Aids, poverty, disease, lack of food and clean water, malaria). We must also work towards ways to encourage and equip the local church in these nations to care for the children of their nation.

My hope is that this article and others like it that shed light on the evil that exists in the adoption world would serve to lead us to greater awareness of areas in need of justice; and that it would lead us to greater and wiser compassion for the orphans (both old and young) that need our care, our adoption, our financial support, and our prayers. There is great opportunity for the church to respond here with great acts of justice and great acts of mercy.