Cumulative risks of foster care placement by age 18 for U.S. children, 2000-2011

PLoS One. 2014 Mar 26;9(3):e92785. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0092785. eCollection 2014.


Foster care placement is among the most tragic events a child can experience because it more often than not implies that a child has experienced or is at very high risk of experiencing abuse or neglect serious enough to warrant state intervention. Yet it is unclear how many children will experience foster care placement at some point between birth and age 18. Using synthetic cohort life tables and data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), we estimated how many U.S. children were placed in foster care between birth and age 18, finding support for three conclusions. First, up to 5.91% of all U.S. children were ever placed in foster care between their birth and age 18. Second, Native American (up to 15.44%) and Black (up to 11.53%) children were at far higher risk of placement. Foster care is thus quite common in the U.S., especially for historically disadvantaged racial/ethnic groups. Third, differences in foster care placement were minimal between the sexes, indicating that the high risks of foster care placement are shared almost equally by boys and girls.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Demography
  • Foster Home Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Racial Groups
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology

Grants and funding

Funding for the project was provided by the Children's Bureau, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Administration for Children and Families, United States Department of Health and Human Services. All analyses and interpretations presented here are solely those of the authors, and the collector of the data, the funder, the Archive, Cornell University and their agents or employees bear no responsibility for the analyses or interpretations presented here. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.