Foster Care Media Toolkit

Social workers and child welfare systems are helping to preserve and strengthen families.


Social workers have worked for decades to strengthen families and identify permanent connections for children in the child welfare system.

The number of children in foster care in the United States dropped to 397,000 in 2012, down more than 20 percent in just a decade, according to the Children's Bureau.

Part of the reason for this sharp decline is that more social workers and other social services professionals and child welfare systems are helping to preserve and strengthen families.

Despite these gains, much serious work remains to improve our nation's foster care system.

Approximately 24,000 young people transition out of foster care each year without permanent family. These young adults, who often leave care with limited life skills and supports, are more likely to experience unhealthy outcomes such as poverty, homelessness, incarceration and poor health.


  • Almost one third of foster children (28 percent) lived in relative’s home while almost half (47 percent) were placed with a non-relative family.
  • Only 9% of foster children lived in institutions and just 6 percent in group homes.
  • 53 percent of foster children had a goal of reuniting with their birth families.
  • About half of the children who left foster care in fiscal year 2012 were discharged to be reunited with birth parents or some other primary caretaker.
  • Four percent of foster children lived in homes where the foster parents planned to adopt them.
  • 23,439 children in 2012 aged out of foster care without permanent family connections, an almost 11 percent decrease from the previous year.
  • The percentage of male and female children in foster care is about equal (52 percent male versus 48 percent female).
  • 42 percent of children in foster care were white as of September 30, 2012; 26 percent African American; 21 percent Hispanic of any race; 9 percent of another race or multiracial; and 3 percent of undetermined race (numbers do not add up to 100 percent due to rounding).

Source: Department of Health and Human Services

Meet the Experts

Matt Anderson

Matt Anderson, MSW

Anderson, director of planning and sustainability at the Children's Home Society of North Carolina, is an expert on the plight children who transition out of foster care. He is producer of "From Place to Place," an award-winning documentary that follows six Montana young adults who aged out of foster care.

Elaine Maccio

Elaine Maccio, DSW

An associate professor at Louisiana State University, Maccio is an expert on LGBT youth who may be homeless or runaways. Some of these youth may also have been in the foster care system.

Roxana Torrico Meruvia

Roxana Torrico Meruvia, MSW

An NASW Senior Practice Associate, Torrico Meruvia can comment on the challenges of youth aging out of the foster care system and how to effectively support their transitions into adulthood. She authored a chapter, "Ensuring a Successful Transition to Adulthood for Foster Youths," in The Children's Bureau: Shaping a Century of Child Welfare Practices, Programs and Policies by NASW Press.

Judith Schagrin

Judith Schagrin, ACSW, LCSW-C

Schagrin, assistant director of children's services at the Baltimore County Department of Social Services, can talk about the state of the foster care system in the United States. Schagrin also runs a summer camp that reunites siblings who may have been separated when placed in foster care.

Mark Testa

Mark Testa, PhD

Testa is a professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Social Work. He is a nationally recognized foster care expert and has done innovative reforms in the fields of child protection and foster care.

Joan Zlotnik

Joan Zlotnik, PhD, ACSW

Zlotnik is director of NASW's Social Work Policy Institute. and author of Preparing the Workforce for Family-Centered Practice: Social Work Education and Public Human Services Partnerships . She can talk about the recruitment and retention of social workers in the child welfare workforce.


NASW Standards for Social Work Practice in Child Welfare

Adoptions and Foster

Strengthening Health Outcomes for Foster Care Children

NASW Press

How to Screen Adoptive and Foster Parents
By James L. Dickerson, Mardi Allen, and Daniel Pollack
This publication offers guidance to social workers on how to ensure prospective adoptive and foster parents are capable of caring for children and teenagers. It includes steps needed to ensure a proper home study and to detect signs an applicant could be a child predator.

Macro Perspectives on Youths Aging Out of Foster Care
Mary E. Collins
Macro Perspectives on Youths Aging Out of Foster Care offers an extensive look at the issue through a macro orientation, providing a greater emphasis on the larger macro systems of society, policy, organization, and community.

The Children’s Bureau: Shaping a Century of Child Welfare Practices, Programs and Policies
By Katharine Briar-Lawson, Mary McCarthy, and Nancy Dickinson
Social workers launched the Children’s Bureau in 1912 and this book looks at how that agency has influenced child welfare policy over the past century.

Media Toolkits

Media Contact

For more information or to arrange an interview with one of our experts, contact NASW Communications Director Greg Wright at