Each week, nearly 60,000 children in the United States are reported as abused or neglected, with nearly 900,000 confirmed abuse victims in 2004. About 520,000 of those children end up in foster care each year -- double the number 25 years ago. Approximately 800,000 children every year come in contact with the foster care system.
Watch ABC News' and "Primetime's" special series on foster care, "A Call to Action: Saving Our Children," beginning Thursday, June 1.
Despite more than a decade of intended reform, the nation's foster care system is still overcrowded and rife with problems. But taxpayers are spending $22 billion a year -- or $40,000 a child -- on foster care programs.
The highest ranking federal official in charge of foster care, Wade Horn of the Department of Health and Human Services, is a former child psychologist who says the foster care system is a giant mess and should just be blown up. He's most critical of the way foster care gets funded by the federal government -- $5 billion that goes mostly, he says, to keeping kids in foster care.
There are no provisions for treatment, prevention, family support, or aging out -- just for supporting things as they are. He wants to rethink foster care on a national level.
Foster Care Statistics:
On September 30, 2004, 518,000 children were in the U.S. foster care system. Most children are placed in foster care temporarily due to parental abuse or neglect.
A record 304,000 children entered the system in 2004, according to one study. Much of the rise was due to methamphetamine use. Experts estimate that 80 to 90 percent of foster care placements can be traced to substance abuse.
About 40,000 infants are placed in foster care every year.
126,000 children are currently available for adoption.
On average, children stay in the system for almost three years (31 months) before either being reunited with their families or adopted. Almost 20 percent wait five years or more. Children have on average three different foster care placements. Frequent moves in and out of the homes of strangers can be profoundly unsettling for children, and it is not uncommon to hear of children who have been in 20 or 30 different homes. Many have been separated not only from their parents, but from their siblings.
More than 20,000 children each year never leave the system -- they remain in foster care until they "age out."
Thirty percent of the homeless in America and some 25 percent of those in prison were once in foster care.
44 percent (or about 241,000 children) have reunification with their birth families as their case goal.
48 percent were in foster family homes (non-relative), 24 percent were in relative foster homes, 18 percent were in group homes or institutions, 4 percent were in pre-adoptive homes, and 6 percent were in other placement types.
The average age of a foster child is 10. Half are 10 or under.
40 percent of foster children are white; 34 are black; 18 percent are Hispanic.
Case workers burn out and leave the profession in very high numbers. The annual turnover rate in the child welfare workforce is more than 20 percent.
The recommended number of cases for a social worker is 17. In some states, the number is three or four times that number.