The current state of foster care in the United States is not acceptable. Children are distraught, forgotten and mistreated by the system that is meant to protect them. While foster care has received many years of reform and change, there is still much room for improvement.
According to the official U.S. Department of Welfare’s child and family services website, childwelfare.gov, the goal of child welfare and the foster system is to “promote the well-being, permanency, and safety of children and families by helping families care for their children successfully or, when that is not possible, helping children find permanency with kin or adoptive families.” While this mission is admirable, the current reality is that the child welfare system falls short of such aspirations. In fact, the number of children in the foster care system has steadily increased since 2012, according to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System 2015 report, demonstrating the growing need for the system to work correctly.
Children find themselves in the foster care system for different reasons — most often because the parents are either unable or unwilling to care for their children, and the children rarely return to their parents’ custody, according to childwelfare.gov. Sometimes they end up living with a relative, but for hundreds of thousands of children, this means foster care. Children need to be placed in forever homes, not temporary ones.
These temporary homes can include family foster homes, group homes, and short-term relative care and to provide shelter and daily necessities. These homes are subject to an assessment and licensing process and are given a monthly stipend to help them take care of foster children in their care, according to childwelfare.gov. While in the foster system, children are usually in the custody of the state, legally. The end goal, however, is a permanent home for the child.
A staggering 26 percent of foster children are between the ages of 11 and 16, the prime of adolescence, according to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System 2015 report. During this developmental stage, children are highly self-conscious but also tend to think that they are independent and display erratic behavior, like mood swings and resentment toward authority figures. While they are going through the emotional stress of being separated from a family unit, at the same time they are dealing with natural chemistry of their body. In order to deal with these behaviors, those who take on children of this age must be properly trained and prepared for foster children.
Children in the foster care system are often subject to poor foster home conditions and red tape that deter them from finding that forever home.
“Our foster care system in America is broken,” Anastasia Deeter, licensed clinical social worker and former foster care youth, said in an interview with the Dallas Morning News. “We envision a system of protection, but it rarely sufficiently safeguards the children and families it claims to serve, only harming further and inflicting significant trauma. From my experience and observations, I believe that the child protection system in this state and nationwide needs a comprehensive top-to-bottom restructure.”
Like Deeter argues, part of the problem is that voices of reform are not taken into consideration. This includes, in large part, the voices and suggestions of former foster youths like Deeter. Their suggestions include accountability for foster parents and not expecting youths to be able to take care of themselves with little direction after turning 18.
Foster Youth in Action is an organization made up of smaller groups of adults who have gone through the foster system and want to advocate change. Instead of politicians making decisions about a system most of them have had no experience in, policy makers should turn to former foster youths to begin the process of change.
The Children’s Rights organization also works to spark foster care reform by investigating issues, forming legal cases, suggesting plans for change and monitoring that progress.
The United States needs to recognize that the current foster care system is doing more harm than good to its youngest and most vulnerable citizens. Only then can steps toward real and lasting change be made.