Foster Care System Faces Problems
Dec. 19 -- More than half a million children are in foster care in the United States today — roughly double the number who were in foster care in the mid-1980s, according to the Child Welfare League of America.
"Having thousands of kids in foster care is a cause for concern because it's at an enormous financial and human cost," says Carrie Friedman, who runs the the CWLA's national database of child welfare statistics. The number of children in foster care nationwide fluctuates between 550,000 and 600,000, according to Friedman.
In 1980, about 500,000 children were in foster care, but a series of successful reforms, starting with that year's Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, dramatically decreased the number of children in foster care. But in the early 1990s, with the advent of crack cocaine and an economic recession — the numbers went back up, Friedman says. "Nationally, we saw a dip and then a rise, and now the numbers are staying flat."
Advocates Urge Strengthening Communities
Child welfare advocates say the foster system is in need of changes so that children spend less time in foster homes, with foster families who are more competent. Young adults who have grown up in foster care also need more help in making the transition to independent living, the advocates say.
Another problem is that today more and more children are going into care as victims of violence or sexual abuse. "Kids are much more disturbed than they ever were," says Max Donatelli, director of care management at Baker Victory Services, a nonprofit that provides services, including foster care, to children in the Buffalo, N.Y. area.
Some advocates also argue for greater efforts to strengthen the impoverished communities where foster children often come from. When communities break down, foster rolls grow and the cycle feeds itself, they say. Because of the connectedness between the health of communities and the safety of kids, many experts recommend child welfare agencies look to rebuild old-fashioned safety nets.