There are approximately 330,000 children living in foster care under the auspices of public and private social agencies in the United States. The vast majority-approximately 80%-have come into care because of severe personal and social problems that have afflicted their parents. More often than not, they come from households that are headed by women struggling to survive on public assistance budgets. Minority children are heavily overrepresented in their ranks.

Parental failure leading to breakup of families is usually related to such personal problems of adults as mental illness, poor physical health, mental retardation, drug addiction, alcoholism, arrest and imprisonment for deviant behavior, and marital discord. Sizable groups of children come into care because their parents have been judged in court actions to have been guilty of abuse or neglect.

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