A Call to Action: Saving Our Children

May 26, 2006 — -- In an unparalleled call to action, Diane Sawyer and ABC News look at the crisis of the foster care system and ways children can be saved in "Calling All Angels," a "Primetime" report that airs Thursday, June 1, at 10 p.m. ET.

As part of an ABC News call to action, additional reports on foster care will air on "Good Morning America," "World News Tonight," "Nightline" and "20/20" through Saturday, June 3.

In her report, Sawyer casts a light on young, fractured lives as she takes a rare look at foster care across the country. With unprecedented access -- bringing cameras where they have never gone before -- she explores a system many consider broken but that struggles to change.

According to the latest statistics, just over 800,000 children pass through the system every year, with more than 500,000 taken into foster care. For them, the average stay is 31 months. One-third stay in the system for more than three years and 17 percent remain in foster care for five years or more. Foster children have on average three different placements. There are currently more than 100,000 foster children across the country available for adoption.

Beyond the statistics and headlines about abuses, Sawyer reveals the human stories -- the sagas of endurance, of hope, of unforgettable children wise beyond their years. Her in-depth report looks at foster care from several perspectives including:

The effects on children of being moved from home to home

What life is like for social workers

The effects of substance abusing parents

And how the system's failures can result in the neglect and even death of children

Each problem and challenge reaps seeds of hope in innovative approaches that work for children and families across the country. Following is an overview of next week's "Primetime":

First, Sawyer looks at the children who are in the system, and those who have made it out. They tell her their stories of getting bounced around from home to home, and how they would fix the system. Sawyer then goes home to Louisville, Ky., and visits Maryhurst, a private, non-profit institution that receives some state funding, and tries to save some of the most vulnerable girls. There she hears gripping stories that provide rare insight into the disturbing effects of domestic instability and abuse. Sawyer discovers that having one loving and stable adult in a child's life can make all the difference.

Often, a child's placement in foster care is because of parents' substance abuse; unfortunately, kids often suffer the collateral damage of their parents' addiction. An epidemic of methamphetamine use has released a flood of children into the foster system from parents who cannot care for their kids. In Oregon the number of foster care children increased by nearly 50 percent over the past three years.

"Primetime" accompanies police and child welfare workers from Salem as they remove children from parents suspected of using meth while uncovering the alarming conditions in which many of these children live. According to Jason Walling, head of child protection services in Marion County, "It [meth] has led to the most devastating crisis that our community has ever seen. ... Children are ripped from their families. The impact is immense." But solutions arise as well, when, because of a shortage of foster homes, local leaders call upon leaders in the religious community to provide foster homes.

Back in Louisville, Sawyer follows a veteran social worker, Sky Tanghe, to get a true sense of what a day in her life is like. Tanghe's daily decisions range from deciding when parents are lying about hitting their children to whether children need to be removed from their homes. Tanghe gives everything she can to the 19 families she serves, and goes to bed every night hoping the decisions she has made that day keep a child out of harm's way. Constantly on the go, she wonders how social workers in some states can possibly handle the 50 to 60 cases on their plates.

From New York to California, Sawyer looks at the stories of abuse, neglect and even death that can happen when the system fails to protect kids. Sawyer reports on Sarah Chavez, a girl in Los Angeles who was thriving in the care of two foster mothers but was returned to her biological family -- and died a few months later. The outraged foster mothers talk exclusively to Sawyer, as does the girl's biological mother.

In addition to "Primetime," other ABC News programs will report on the foster care system. Programming will include the following:

• "Good Morning America" features Chris Cuomo's exclusive interview with Tre'shawn Mitchell, formerly Keith Mitchell, one of four brothers found emaciated and allegedly beaten by adoptive parents in New Jersey. The morning show also reports on solutions, success stories and how people can foster or adopt children.

• "World News Tonight" reports on a Pittsburgh program that focuses on an alternative to foster care and the trend of Internet adoption.

• "Nightline's" Cynthia McFadden follows young people who are aging out of foster care, with nowhere to go and few resources to help them.

• "20/20" takes a second look at a thriving program that helps foster children get placed for adoption by having professional photographers capture their spirit in breathtaking pictures.

• ABCNEWS.com reports further on the foster care with results from an ABC News/Time Magazine poll on foster care.