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9 Surprising Facts About Foster Care

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

These fast facts might change your perspective on the foster care system.

Most people in the US don’t have a solid understanding of the foster care system, and the goal of Foster Care Awareness Month is to change that. Spreading awareness is an important step in creating change, so here are nine surprising facts about the foster care system you might not know.

1 – Foster children are twice as likely to suffer from PTSD as war veterans.

It’s true. Foster care alumni are twice as likely to suffer from PTSD as a veteran of war.

Children in foster care endure trauma during crucial years of their development—in and out of the system. The chronic stress they face has very real health impacts, physically and mentally, which makes them one of the most vulnerable populations in the US.

2 – 80 percent of children in foster care have significant mental health issues.

In the general population, there are about 18-22 percent of people with significant mental health issues. In a group of foster children, that rate increases to 80 percent. Many people refer to these mental health issues as “behavioral issues,” but by doing this, we lose focus of the root of the problem: unmet needs and unaddressed trauma.

3 – Roughly half of all foster kids experience chronic physical problems.

Trauma causes more than just mental health issues, and the physiological impacts of trauma are clear in foster care populations. About 50 percent of kids in the foster care system suffer from chronic physical illnesses, such as asthma, anemia, visual loss, hearing loss, or neurological disorders.

4 - Over a third of children in the foster care system experience three or more placements.

When we hear the tragic stories of foster care, we want to hope that it is the exception and not the norm. But the truth is that the traumatic stories we hear are the norm, and a positive experience of foster care is the exception.

Over 30 percent of kids in the system experience three or more placements, forcing them to move homes, families, friends, and schools over and over.

5 - Less than half of all children in foster care graduate from high school.

Because of their trauma and mental health issues, foster children often struggle in school. Without the support, structure, and consistency they need to thrive, many foster kids never finish high school.

6 – Less than 5 percent of foster alumni earn a college degree.

Even though 70 percent of foster kids would like to earn a college degree, only 3-4 percent of foster care alumni earn a four-year college degree, compared to 40-50 percent of all adults in the US. Physical and mental health issues combined with low high school graduation rates greatly impact a person’s life long after their experiences in the foster care system.

7 – By age 24, about half of all foster kids are unemployed.

Foster alumni struggle, but not because there is something inherently wrong with them. Foster alumni struggle because they lack the necessary supports they need to succeed. Family, friends, and communities enable us to succeed by offering physical, financial, emotional, and social support. Many foster kids don’t have those supports—early or later in life.

That’s why only about half of all foster kids are employed by age 24.

8 – Within a year and a half of aging out of the system, about 50 percent of foster kids are homeless.

When foster kids turn 18, they “age out” of care. As legal adults, the state is no longer responsible for them. But that doesn’t mean these teenagers are truly ready to support themselves. Many foster kids become homeless the moment they turn 18, and nearly 50 percent of foster alumni are homeless before they turn 20.

9 – More than 60% of child trafficking victims are current or former foster youth.

Foster youth are one of the United States’ most vulnerable populations, and their risk of child trafficking is extremely high. Experience in the foster care system is a traumatic one, and everyone should be aware of the reality of foster care for the nearly half a million kids it impacts every day.

Final Thoughts: Foster Care Awareness and Social Justice

LGBTQIA+, Black, and Brown youth are overrepresented in the foster care system. It’s clear that experience in the US’s broken foster care system is linked to poor outcomes for foster care alumni, and these systemic problems are inextricably linked to other social justice issues in the US. Mending the broken foster care system is one way that we can improve social justice and equity in the US, and it starts by increasing awareness.


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