How many babies in the US need to be adopted?

There are over 400,000 children in foster care in the United States, and over 120,000 of them are waiting to be adopted. While the number of children in foster care has declined in recent years, the number of children waiting to be adopted has remained relatively steady. This article will provide an in-depth look at how many babies and children are currently awaiting adoption in the US foster care system.

Key Statistics

  • In 2020, there were over 120,000 children waiting to be adopted from foster care in the United States.
  • Roughly 24,000 children age out of foster care each year without being adopted.
  • 51% of children waiting to be adopted are males, while 49% are females.
  • The average age of a child waiting to be adopted from foster care is 8 years old.
  • In 2020, over 60,000 children were adopted from foster care in the U.S.

The number of children waiting to be adopted changes day-to-day as children enter and leave the foster care system. But these key statistics help provide a snapshot of the adoption need at any given time. While older children make up the bulk of those waiting, infants and toddlers are also in need of permanent adoptive homes.

How Many Babies Need to Be Adopted?

When examining how many babies under age 2 need adoptive families, here are some key facts:

  • In 2020, around 8,000 infants under 1 year old were awaiting adoption from foster care.
  • Over 10,000 1-year-olds were eligible for adoption from the foster system.
  • 19,000 2-year-olds waited for adoptive placements.
  • So in total, nearly 40,000 children under age 2 needed adoptive homes.

Infants and toddlers often become available for adoption from foster care when their birth parents’ rights have been terminated by the court system. This happens after the parents have been unable to safely care for the child.

State Variations

While around 37,000 babies and toddlers awaited adoption nationwide in 2020, there were some variations by state:

  • California had the most infants/toddlers waiting to be adopted at nearly 5,000.
  • Texas followed with around 3,600 babies/toddlers waiting.
  • Then Florida with 2,200, New York with 2,100, and Michigan with just over 2,000.

Some states have a much higher percentage of young children awaiting adoption compared to their overall foster care population. For example:

  • In Maine, 46% of children in care were under 3.
  • In Oklahoma, 45% were infants/toddlers.
  • And in Alaska, 44% of children awaiting adoption were babies/toddlers.

So while some states only have a few hundred babies and toddlers awaiting families, the need is still great when you consider the percentage of young children in need in those areas.

Primary Factors Driving Adoption Needs

Why do so many young kids end up needing adoptive families each year? There are a few primary factors that contribute to infants and toddlers needing adoption:

Substance Abuse

Parental drug and alcohol abuse is a major driver of child welfare cases. When substance abuse makes parents unable to safely care for their children, babies and young children often end up placed in foster care.

According to government data:

  • 1 in 5 children entering foster care do so at least partly due to parental alcohol abuse.
  • Almost 1 in 3 children in care has had a parent who abused drugs.

When parents cannot overcome addiction issues, their parental rights may be terminated and their young children need new families.

Domestic Violence

Exposure to domestic violence can threaten a child’s safety and well-being. Very young children in homes with domestic violence are at risk of physical harm or neglect.

  • At least 1 in 3 child maltreatment cases involve domestic violence.
  • In homes where there is child abuse and neglect, up to 60% may also have domestic violence present.

When children live in homes where domestic violence continues and parents cannot provide safety, the children often enter the foster system. Babies and toddlers may wait for adoption while the courts decide if it is safe for them to return home.

Teen Parents

While teen pregnancy rates have declined over the past couple decades, minors having children still contributes to adoption needs. When very young parents struggle to adequately care for an infant, the child may be removed by the state.

  • Roughly 5% of children adopted from U.S. foster care each year are adopted by relatives.
  • 2% are adopted by their foster parents.

So teen parents unable to parent their child may result in the baby needing adoption by new parents.


When a parent is incarcerated long-term, children are also impacted. If no suitable guardian is found, babies and children may enter foster care.

  • 2.3% of U.S. children have a parent in jail or prison.
  • Parental incarceration is now recognized as an “adverse childhood experience” that can negatively impact wellbeing.

Babies with a parent who will be imprisoned for many years are at heightened risk of needing adoption.

How Adoption Rates Affect Numbers Waiting

Each year around 60,000 children are adopted from the U.S. foster care system. But adoptions have declined in recent years:

  • In fiscal year 2019 there were over 63,000 adoptions from foster care.
  • In 2020 adoptions declined to around 61,000.
  • In 2021 there were just under 60,000 adoptions.

The reasons for the decline are varied. The opioid crisis has strained some parts of the system. COVID-19 also created challenges for adoptive placements. Budget shortfalls have limited resources in some jurisdictions.

When adoptions go down, it contributes to more children remaining in impermanent foster care. More children waiting in care ultimately leads to higher numbers waiting to be adopted down the road.

Boosting adoption rates would help find permanent families for babies, toddlers and older children awaiting adoption from foster care.

Challenges for Adoption of Young Children

While many families do step up to adopt infants and toddlers from foster care, there are still thousands in need each year. Some key challenges prevent more adoptions of babies and young kids:

Age Preferences of Adoptive Parents

Most prospective adoptive parents desire to adopt a very young child or baby. Infants are in high demand among families wanting to adopt. However, the number of waiting infants each year still outpaces the homes available.

Many families are hesitant to adopt a child over 3 years old. But young children make up a disproportionate share of the children awaiting adoption. Almost one-third of waiting children are aged 1 to 5 years old.

Geographic Mismatch

There are often not enough pre-approved adoptive families within any given region. Meanwhile, each state and county has varying numbers of infants/toddlers needing placement. This geographic mismatch results in many waiting children.

Expanding statewide or regional adoption registries could help connect approved families to waiting babies/toddlers in that area.

Barriers to Foster Parent Adoptions

Many children are eventually adopted by their foster parents. But some policies create barriers slowing this process. For example, agencies requiring 1+ year of fostering before a family can adopt. Streamlining foster-to-adopt placements could help more young children exit the system into permanent families.

Effects of the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid crisis has contributed to increases in infants being placed in foster care in some regions. As substance abuse increases investigations and removals, more babies have entered care needing treatment for drug withdrawal.

This unexpected influx in some areas has made it even more challenging for adoption rates to keep up with needs. Addressing substance abuse on a broader scale may help lessen the strain on the foster care system.

State Budget Constraints

Some state child welfare systems lack the budget for recruitment, retention and support needed to uphold adoption rates. Inadequate funding for staffing makes it difficult to properly train and support adoptive families.

Federal financing helps strengthen state child welfare. But additional targeted funding for adoption support would enable some states to place more eligible children.

How the Adoption Process Works

The process for adopting a child from foster care includes these general steps:

Choose an Agency

Prospective adoptive parents choose a licensed agency to work with. This may be a public agency, private licensed agency, or child-placing agency.

Complete a Home Study

The agency will complete a home study evaluating if the family offers a suitable home. Home studies review finances, health, criminal background, and living space.

Get Approved

Based on the home study results, the agency decides if to approve the family for adoption. If approved, they are added to the state/agency adoption registry.

Be Matched with a Child

The agency matches approved families with children awaiting adoption. Matches consider needs, demographics, and preferences.

Transition Period

Before finalizing an adoption, the child will move in with the family for a transition period. This lets everyone get comfortable. For babies, this period may be relatively brief.

Finalize Adoption in Court

The family will finalize the adoption through the court system. After finalization, they gain all legal rights and responsibilities of parents.

While the process has some common steps, details vary by state. Some states also have initiatives to streamline the adoption process and increase permanency.

Effects on Adopted Children

What effects can adoption from foster care have on infants and young children placed in new permanent families? Some potential effects include:

Gaining Stability

Being adopted can bring greater stability and routine to a child’s life, compared to impermanent foster care placements. Adoption offers the security of a lifelong family commitment.

Stronger Attachments

Young children get to form a secure attachment to their adoptive parents. This helps promote healthy emotional development.

Reduced Trauma

Children experience trauma from abuse, neglect, and changing placements in the system. Adoption can minimize further time in temporary care and reduce trauma.

Better Long-Term Outcomes

Research shows adopted children generally have better life outcomes in areas like education, employment, mental health, and reduced criminal justice system involvement.

However, children adopted from foster care are still at somewhat higher risk of difficulties later in life compared to children in the general population. Ongoing support helps maximize wellbeing.

Supporting Successful Adoptions

It is critical that adoptive families have access to support and resources to help their adopted children thrive. Some important ways to support adoptions of babies and young children from care include:

  • Parent Training: Prepares new parents for unique aspects of parenting a child from foster care. Helps address developmental delays and manage trauma/attachment issues.
  • Support Groups: Allows adoptive parents to share advice and experiences. Reduces feelings of isolation.
  • Respite Care: Gives adoptive families short breaks when needed. Helps avoid burnout.
  • Counseling: Provides therapy to assist adopted children with processing complex emotions. Also helps adoptive families strengthen new bonds.
  • Educational Resources: Ensures parents understand issues like FASD, RAD, PTSD, and effects of abuse/neglect on children.
  • Financial Assistance: Provides aid with initial adoption costs or ongoing subsidies. Makes adoption accessible for more families.

Ongoing post-adoption support is key for positive outcomes for adopted infants, children and youth.


Around 37,000 babies and toddlers await adoption from the U.S. foster care system each year. Parental substance abuse, domestic violence, and incarceration all contribute to placing young children in impermanent care. While thousands are adopted annually, barriers like age preferences and state budget limitations prevent enough qualified families being found for all waiting infants and toddlers.

Addressing societal issues like addiction and violence could help lessen the strain on the system. Meanwhile, support and resources for adoptive families also need strengthening across the country. Each young child adopted into a stable, permanent family has the chance for a brighter future. So finding adoptive homes for babies and youth awaiting families should remain a top priority.

Leave a Comment