When you look closely at foster care statistics, you’ll notice some disheartening data about foster care and race.
There are significant racial disparities in the United States foster care system. Diving into these statistics can help us understand how we can better support foster care children and improve our communities.
Number of children in foster care in the U.S. by race
Below you’ll see the number of children in the United States foster care system by their race / ethnicity. These statistics are from 2021 and were obtained from statista.com.
White: 168,063 children
Black or African American: 86,645 children
Hispanic (of any race): 85,215 children
Two or more races: 30,701 children
American Indian / Alaskan Native: 9,393 children
Unknown race / unable to determine: 7,144 children
Asian: 2,025 children
Native Hawaiian / other Pacific Islander: 987 children
This data sheds light on the disproportionality in race and foster care.
Racial disproportionality in foster care
Racial disproportionality is when a certain racial or ethnic group is overrepresented or underrepresented compared with the percentage of its total population.
For example, if black children represent 14% of all children in America, you would expect about 14% of foster care children to be black.
Anything significantly higher or lower than that percentage (14%) is a disproportionality.
Black children are overrepresented in foster care
Black children are overrepresented in foster care.
According to datacenter.kidscount.org, Black children represented 14% of the total child population in the United States. However, they represented 23% of all children in foster care.
Let’s compare this with foster care numbers for other races / ethnicities:
There are more white children in foster care than any other race. This isn’t surprising when you consider that white children make up a whopping 50% of all children in the United States. White children are actually underrepresented in foster care. Only about 44% of the foster care population was white.
Hispanic children are underrepresented in foster care. They represent 25% of all children in the United States, but only 21% of children in foster care. This may be surprising given that many hispanic communities have suffered prejudices and disenfranchisement similar to those faced by America’s black population.
Asian and Native Hawaiian children are also underrepresented. They make up 5% of America's children, but only 1% of the foster care population.
Compared to other races, there’s a disproportionately large number of black children who are entering and remaining in foster care.
Reasons for racial disproportionality in foster care
What causes racial disproportionality in foster care?
There are several factors that may explain why racial disproportionality exists:
Systemic racism:According to a 2017 study, Black children are more likely to be separated from their families and placed in foster care. They’re also less likely to be reunited with their families. Child welfare professionals may knowingly or unknowingly allow their personal biases to impact their work in reporting, investigation, intervention, and placement. Black parents may also be wrongly targeted by law enforcement or suffer employment , which can increase the likelihood of a Black child being removed from a home.
Stereotypes/biases: Black children may have a more difficult time being adopted due to stereotypes about or biases against Black people, and this causes them to remain in the system for a longer time or until they age out of it.
Lack of Community Investment: Schools in areas with predominantly Black or Hispanic people usually get less funding than schools in predominantly White areas. Most school districts are funded largely by property taxes. Sadly, homes in black neighborhoods often suffer from biased appraisals and devaluations that hurt the ability of black communities to fund resources for their residents. With fewer educational resources, Black youth are more likely to struggle economically or become involved with the criminal justice system, creating a cycle of economic inequity.
It’s important to remember there’s no one cause for the racial disproportionality in foster care. The problem is caused by a wide range of interconnected economic and social issues.
While policy change is needed, support programs for foster children and foster families can also make a significant impact.
Penny Lane Support
Penny Lane supports foster children and foster families.
Family Programs: Our Family Programs provide essential resources for families caring for foster children. Our programs are designed to help prepare families for the challenges of raising a foster child and in strengthening their family connections.
In-Home Services: We provide In-Home Services to help families nurture foster children with special needs or trauma, and give post-adoption support.
Want to make a difference? Donate to Penny Lane to help us improve the lives of foster children and reduce the disproportionality in foster care and race. You can also support our mission through volunteering or mentorship.
Penny Lane Centers is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization that cares for over 3500 abused and neglected children, youth and families a month. We provide therapeutic services, foster family home placements, adoption services, transitional and affordable housing, family preservation, Intensive Services and mental health services for children youth and families throughout Los Angeles County.