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Foster Care and Adoption Statistics – AFCARS

Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families (ACF) released its annual Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) data for fiscal year 2021.

FY 2021 had the fewest number of public sector adoptions since FY 2015.

For the fourth year in a row, there was a decrease in the number of children in foster care, with 391,098 in care. The number of children in foster care awaiting adoption also decreased, to 113,589, the lowest point since FY 2015. The number of exits from foster care (any exit type) was 214,971, constituting the fewest number of exits from foster care since AFCARS began reporting began.

The number of children adopted from foster care in FY 2021 was 54,240, a 6% decrease from the year prior (FY 2020) and over an 18% decrease from FY 2019, marking FY 2021 as having the fewest number of public sector adoptions since FY 2015.

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This data reveals that for every child adopted from foster care, two children remained in care who were awaiting adoption. Though there were fewer total adoptions this past year, when compared to the total number of children in care, the percentage of children awaiting adoption (29%) and the percentage of children adopted (14%) remained the same as the prior year. It should also be noted that of the 105,681 with a case plan goal of adoption, less than 20% were in a pre-adoptive home at the end of the reporting period.

Profile of Children in Care

  • Of those children placed for adoption from foster care, 47% were age four years or younger, with the median age being 5.0 years and the mean age 6.1 years.
  • Of those adopted, 51% were male, matching the percentage of those in foster care.
  • Of those who were adopted, the majority (55%) were adopted by their foster parents.
  • Consistent with previous years, 93% of those adopted from foster care receive an adoption subsidy.

Exits from Foster Care

Of the 214,971 youth that exited foster care in FY 2021, they spent on average nearly two years (21.9 months) in foster care.

Just under half (47%) of the exits from foster care were due to reunifications, while 25% were due to adoptions and 12% were guardianships.

The FY 2021 AFCARS report also shows 19,130 youth emancipated from foster care this year – a stark and dismal reminder of how our child welfare system has failed to help achieve permanency for our youth; the long-term well-being outcomes for youth emancipating from care are worse than other exit types from the child welfare system and result in longer-term increased costs to states.

Time in Care

We learned from this report that of the children who exited the foster care system during this period, more than a third had spent more than two years in care – amounting to 73,591 children and youth, with nearly half of those kids having spent three to four years in care and nearly 10,000 having spent five years or more in care. This is tragic – a painful reminder that our system is not meeting the goal of getting children into permanency within the timeframes we want, and another reminder that the timeframes established into law by the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) are not being met by state child welfare workers and judicial offices.

Drop in the Number of Kids in Care

Last year's report showed a significant drop in the number of children in foster care, likely due to the covid pandemic keeping children in lockdown at home instead of other settings, such as school and doctor appointments, where they would interact with mandated reporters of abuse and neglect. This year's report shows a continued decline in the number of children entering foster care, though not at the same rate as the year prior. It is important to remember that an increase or decrease in the number of children entering foster care should not be our measure of success. Rather, our goal should be to reduce child maltreatment rates, reduce time spent outside permanent family care, and reduce timeframes and numbers of children awaiting adoption.


This report shows that over 113,000 children and youth are without a permanent, nurturing family to help them thrive during their most formative years. NCFA applauds all the families who together welcomed a total of 54,200 children into their homes during this fiscal year. If you are considering adoption from foster care, you can learn more about the process here. We hope you will take the first step and connect with an agency in your state.