May is National Foster Care Month, a time for promoting awareness and involvement in the foster care system. Here are five things you should know about the foster care system in America:
1. Foster care is a temporary arrangement in which adults provide for the care of a child or children whose birth parent is unable to care for them. The goal for a child in the foster care system is most commonly reunification with the birth parents, although adoption or kinship care (raising of children by extended family members or close friends) is sometimes considered when it is in the child's best interest. Foster care can be informal or arranged through the courts or a social service agency.
2. Based on the latest government estimates (as of September 30, 2014), there were 415,129 children in foster care in the United States. Out of that number, 120,334 are in foster care in a relatives’ home (kinship care), 190,454 in non-relative foster care, 23,233 are in-group homes, 32,955 in institutions, and 4,544 are listed as runaways.
3. The median age of entry into the U.S. foster care system is 6.4 years old, while the median age of exit is 8 years old. The median time in care is one and half years.
4. The average length of time a child waits to be adopted in foster care is almost three years. Roughly 55 percent of these children have had three or more placements. One study found that 33 percent of children had changed elementary schools five or more times, losing relationships and falling behind educationally
5. Each year, more than 27,000 youth “age out” of foster care without the emotional and financial support necessary to succeed. Nearly 25 percent of youth aging out did not have a high school diploma or GED, and a mere six percent had finished a two- or four-year degree after aging out of foster care.