The foster care system exists to advocate and care for children that need a support system. While the system is necessary and has helped many children who otherwise would have had no one, it’s not perfect by any means. There are four major issues with the foster care system that need to be addressed.
Reliance on group homes
More than 56,000 children in the foster system live in group homes. One in seven foster children are placed in group settings, and more than 40 percent of these children have no documented clinical or behavioral need that would necessitate a group setting. Children have more success when placed with a family from the beginning. Not only do group homes not serve the best interest of the children, but they’re also way more costly. Group homes cost seven to 10 times more per child than family placement.
Lack of support for foster parents
Support for foster parents is crucial for the success of foster children and the foster system in general. Many foster children suffer from mental or behavioral issues or have experienced significant trauma, and that can be a lot for a parent to take on with little support. Foster parents need more resources to help them in the difficult journey that is fostering. Foster parents need on-demand training on how to handle any issues their foster child may have, and the support of other foster families in the area.
Teenagers age out of the system
Children and teenagers that are placed in group homes don’t have the opportunity to connect with a permanent adoptive family, making them likely to age out of the system with no support network. One in five teenagers who age out of the foster care system will become homeless. More than 40 percent of teenagers who age out never graduate from high school. Recently, some jurisdictions have raised the foster care age from 18 to 21, so young adults are still able to receive support from their caseworkers.
Little focus on reunification
It may seem like the only options for foster children are to get adopted, or age out of the system. That’s because reunification is often overlooked. Reuniting foster children with birth families should be the original goal. Most children who are removed from their families don’t want to be. They’d prefer to live with their family when possible. Around half of all children who leave the system are reunited with their parents. In situations of abuse or neglect, reunification is not in the child’s best interest. But, children enter the foster care for a multitude of other reasons and the focus for those children should be on returning them to their family.