Busting the Myths—5 Astonishing Facts About Foster Care in the United States

You know that saying, “The more I learn, the less I know?” Well, it applies to the facts about foster care in the United States, too. Read on for some evidence-based facts about foster care that may not just astonish you: They might just start debunking some long-held societal myths.

Myth #1: The majority of children in U.S. foster care are minorities.

FACT: The majority of children in U.S. foster care are White.

Yes, you heard that right. Despite the common presumption by Americans that “foster kids are usually minorities,” it’s not true. Actually, foster children are quite ethnically and racially diverse! But don’t take our word for it: Let’s dive into some data: The stats from a 2015 report show that 44% of foster children are White, 25% are African American, 22% are Hispanic or Latino, 7% are multiple races, 2% are American Indian/Alaskan Native, 1% are Asian, and < 1% are Pacific Islander.

Myth #2: The reason that most children are in foster care in this country is because they are abused (physically, emotionally, or sexually).

FACT: Nope. The most prevalent reason is actually neglect—not abuse.

A stunning 61% of all foster children in this country entered the foster care system because they were neglected. In fact, sexual abuse ranks tenth out of the top 10 reasons, and physical abuse is fourth. Number one is substance abuse. Here’s the rundown, according to ChildTrends 2015: parental substance abuse (36%), inability to cope (14%), physical abuse (13%), child behavior problem (11%), inadequate housing (10%), parental incarceration (8%), abandonment (5%), “other” (5%), and sexual abuse (4%).

Myth #3: Many foster children bounce from foster home to foster home.

FACT: Close to half of all children in foster care experience only one foster-home placement.

ChildTrends reports that 40% of all foster children in the United States have only one placement before they exit the system.

Myth #4: Most foster children never make it back to their birth families.

FACT: Quite the opposite. Children are reunited with their parents—permanently—in more than half of all cases!

For 55% of all children in foster care, the case plan goal is reunification, and for 25%, the goal is adoption. The outcomes data are equally telling: 51% of all foster children who exit the system do so because they are returned to their parents. 22% are adopted. 16% have a transfer of guardianship, and only 9% are emancipated (“age out”).

Myth #5: Foster parents are just “in it for the money.”

FACT: Based on studies and parent interviews, this myth couldn’t be farther from the truth. Foster parents are typically doing this for a variety of reasons—and all of them can be traced back to love, pure and simple.

Data and research speak volumes, but, hearing it from actual human beings, sharing their stories, is so much more compelling. Here are some reasons that parents cite as to why they became foster parents and what it means to them (hint: It has nothing to do with money):

Rebecca, a foster mom and former author for, explained it like this: “When I am asked, I wrestle with how to answer the question of why I became, and continue to be, a foster parent. I don’t believe that there is such a thing as altruism—or giving without expecting anything in return. When I give to my foster children, I receive all kinds of things—not the least of which is a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart.”

In this article, she suggests three good reasons for becoming a foster parent:

  1. Being a great parent to a child who needs one (period; end of story). It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
  2. You believe in thinking globally but acting locally. You may not be able to travel with the Peace Corps, but you can do some good right here in your state, even in your own town. “Fostering is an opportunity to grow roots and become engaged within your community.”
  3. You have resources to share. (And, by resources, she doesn’t mean “just money”! Think about it: Education. Social capital. Life skills. Your network of friends and family members “who can power up a foster child’s self-esteem and future opportunities.”

Yes, foster parents do receive money for being foster parents. But, when all is said and done, a foster parent typically earns about $1.05 per hour. In this post, which appeared on The Foster Life blog in 2015, longtime foster mom Jill Rippey absolutely nails it in a raw, brutally honest way. And she ends the article by saying, “So, yes, you got me. I only foster for the money. Why do YOU foster? Oh, wait . . . you don’t?”

Lisa Solomon is a professional photographer who lives and works in the DC suburbs (Silver Spring, MD). She and her husband Dave were foster parents (their adult foster children have since “left the nest”). When asked why, in her experience, foster parents foster, Lisa had this to say: “We foster because we have room in our lives and love in our hearts to care for others. We’ve come to a point in our lives where we have a lot to give and the energy to give it. This is a special love because so many people come into your life besides the child—such as siblings, parents, and other relatives.”

So, as you can see, being a foster parent has nothing to do with money—and everything to do with love.

Kathleen Kelly Halverson lives in Olney, Maryland, with her husband Jeff, 8-year-old son Matthew Seong-jin (whom they adopted from South Korea), and two dogs (Jupiter and Tyson). She works in scholarly publishing for a nonprofit association and has maintained an adoption blog since 2008.