The Crisis

The California Foster Care System

There are just under 60,000 children and youth in foster care in California—by far the highest population of any state. In San Francisco, there are just about 1,000.

Current budget cuts  threaten California’s ability to provide necessary care and services to these vulnerable children. Here are just a handful of issues plaguing California’s child welfare system:

System Inadequacy

There are many agencies involved in California’s child welfare system, which makes communication, coordination, and efficiency difficult to achieve.

The 2010 Blue Ribbon Commission Report noted that judges lack full information about a child’s health, mental health and education resulting in  life-changing decisions being made without a complete picture of the child’s needs.

Lack of information can also cause situations where court-ordered services meant to benefit children and families conflict with other court orders or mandated services from other agencies.

Ethnic Inequality

In California, there are nearly double the amount of foster youth of Latino descent then there are of white or African-American descent. A recent study by found that 61% of the 3,437 increased number of foster youth in California came from Latino backgrounds. Even in some California counties where the overall amount of foster youth has decreased, there is still an increase in Latino foster youth in particular.

In addition, foster children are more likely to come into contact with the juvenile delinquency system or become incarcerated after emancipation. In California only 6% of the adult male population is Black, yet African Americans make up 29% of the male population in California prisons.

Mental Health Issues

Seventy five percent (75%) of foster youth suffer from severe emotional disturbances. This is often due to impermanency, neglect, prenatal drug abuse, and exposure to violence. A study found that only 65% of foster children evaluated as needing mental health services were actually receiving them.

Education Inadequacies

California’s foster children attend an average of seven to nine different schools by age 18—80% are held back in school by the third grade. Less than half of California’s foster youth will graduate from high school and only 2% graduate from college or higher.

Insufficient Placements and Services

More than 50% of foster youths are placed outside of San Francisco County because there are not enough beds for them in their home city. This usually means they are separated from siblings and lose important connections to the community.

Even as children in care transition into adulthood, there are not enough services to ensure they don’t become homeless. In 2008, California’s Transitional Housing Program-Plus (THP-Plus) had 1,234 places, yet 4,653 youth emancipated (turned 18 and exited the system) that year.

Emancipation Leads to Tragedies

Each year over 4,000 foster youth emancipate in California. They lack a supportive network of adults and generally have no plan for work or housing.

Within the first 2 to 4 years after “aging out” of the system, 51% of these young adults are unemployed, 40% are on public assistance, 25% become homeless, and 20% will be incarcerated.


National Statistics

Approximately 400,000 children are in foster care in the United States. Fifty percent (50%) of preschool-aged foster children have high developmental and behavioral needs, but only 23% of these young children are receiving services for these issues.

Of the 30,000 teenagers who age out of the foster care system each year:

  • 25% become homeless
  • 56% are unemployed
  • 27% of male children end up in jail

Costs to The Taxpayers

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated average lifetime cost per victim of nonfatal child maltreatment includes:

  • $32,648 in childhood health care costs
  • $10,530 in adult medical costs
  • $144,360 in productivity losses
  • $7,728 in child welfare costs
  • $6,747 in criminal justice costs
  • $7,999 in special education costs

Sources: Center for Social Services at UC Berkeley, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Human Services Agency, National Working Group on Foster Care and Education, Honoring Emancipated Youth, The Stuart Foundation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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