The foster care system goes largely unnoticed in this country, and to the extent that they think about it, most Americans believe it does an acceptable job. But there's also substantial worry about the system -- and broad support for improving it, even at significant cost.
Watch ABC News' and "Primetime's" special series on foster care, "A Call to Action: Saving Our Children," beginning Thursday, June 1.
State foster care programs provide temporary shelter for about half a million children who've been removed from their homes for lack of adequate care. Overall, 53 percent in this ABC News/Time magazine poll say the system runs well -- but a mere 8 percent say it runs very well. And nearly half, 47 percent, believe their state system is not doing enough to identify at-risk children.
Only about a quarter of Americans say they pay much attention to foster care issues. Those who do follow the subject are 11 points more apt to rate the system negatively than those who are least likely to follow it, and 20 points more likely to say their state is doing too little to identify at-risk children; they're also more supportive of some improvements in the foster care system.
One fundamental reform -- hiring more caseworkers -- gets overwhelming support: Three-quarters of Americans favor hiring more child welfare workers to reduce their caseloads from the current average of 30 children per caseworker to a recommended 20, even if doing so costs tens of millions of dollars.
That view, moreover, commands bipartisan majorities: Eighty-two percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Republicans support hiring more caseworkers, as do both 83 percent of those who identified themselves as liberal and 72 percent of those labeling themselves conservative.
Even more popular are financial incentives, including tax breaks, to families who adopt older children out of foster care: Eighty-three percent of Americans support that approach, again including sizable majorities across political and ideological lines.
Among other steps, six in 10 also think foster care per diems should be extended to families until foster children reach 21 (support typically ends at age 18). And religious leadership may help: More than six in 10 say religious leaders should do more to encourage people to become foster parents or to adopt foster children.
Outreach to prospective foster parents might also help. Perhaps surprisingly, about a quarter of Americans say they'd seriously consider becoming foster parents or adopting a foster child -- a huge group of individuals, and vastly more than the number actually needed, if only some of them were motivated to act.
Young adults, and people who already have kids at home, are much better prospects -- 40 percent of those under 35 say they'd seriously consider it, compared with just 4 percent of those 65 and over. And 31 percent of nonwhites would consider fostering a child, compared with 19 percent of whites.
Age of People Who Would Seriously Consider Foster Parenting
|18-34 years old||40%|
|35-44 years old||27%|
|45-54 years old||14%|
|55-64 years old||10%|
|65+ years old||4%|