Foster Care 101

Briefs written by youth with lived experience. (Click on the pictures to read/download the briefs.)

The History of the Child Welfare System
  • In the 1800s, the Children’s Aid Society created “orphan trains” to transport children to farms. In contrast, indigenous children were sent to boarding schools.
  • 1912 saw the creation of the Children’s Bureau, devoted to the welfare of children.
  • The Safe Families and Foster Care Independence Acts were created in 1997 and 1999, both with goals to decrease the number of children in foster care and improve outcomes for youth aging out of care. However, these goals have yet to be met.
What Is the Child Welfare System?
  • The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services defines it as a group of services designed to promote the well-being of children by ensuring safety, achieving permanency, and strengthening families.
  • The primary responsibility for child welfare services rests with the states, and the federal government supports states through program funding and legislative initiatives.
What Are the Goals of the Child Welfare System?
  • The primary goals of the child welfare system are to provide safety for children from abuse and neglect by parents or primary caregivers and to achieve permanency for the children who are removed.
  • Child welfare agencies use a variety of strategies to achieve permanency by either reunifying children within their families of origin or placing them with other permanent families.
How Is the Child Welfare System Funded?
  • $5.81 billion of tax-payer funds are used by the Child Welfare System annually.
  • The largest federal funding source is Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, which supports foster care, adoption assistance, guardianship assistance programs, and independent living programs.
  • As an entitlement, Title IV-E foster care funding is determined by the level of need and number of claims filed by states for reimbursement.
What Are the Outcomes of the Child Welfare System?
  • Despite a 5% reduction in foster care cases over the last five years, child welfare’s permanency goal has worsened.
  • Time in foster care results in poorer outcomes for children in care than for those who are not.
  • By 17-19, while still in foster care, youth face homelessness, education loss, unemployment, incarceration, and grim futures.
  • Nearly 25,000 young people are annually aging out of foster care.
  • Within four years of aging out, 50% will be unemployed, 50% will have experienced homelessness, and only 8% will have achieved a college degree.