Uncle Sam’s Children: Should Foster Children Stay With Their Birth Families?

An article (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-07-02-foster-study_N.htm) in USA Today about whether or not children should stay in their homes or be put into foster care really peaked my interest. Obviously there are many different reasons why children should be taken from homes immediately, including child sexual abuse, intentional starvation, and intentional acts of inhumanely cruel abuse, among others. However, the article showed that it is likely that not all children benefit from being taken away from their birth families.

The statistics for children raised in foster care are staggering, and believe it or not, I believe they’ve improved significantly through the years. For example, when I was in foster care, programs like the ones the Annie E. Casey Foundation funds and supports were not available.

The statistics for former foster children are frightening (http://www.heysf.org/pdfs/HEYFosterYouthStatistics.pdf):

  • 25% of former foster youth will be incarcerated within the first 2 years of emancipation.
  • Former foster youth are found to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at 2 times the level of U.S. war veterans.
  • Forty-two percent (42%) of foster youth, including 60% of women, become parents within 2.5-4 years after exiting care.
  • Parents with a history of foster care are almost twice as likely to see their own children placed in foster care or become homeless than parents without this history.
  • Females in foster care are six times more likely than the general population to give birth before age 21.
  • 1/3 of former foster youth have incomes at, or below, $6,000 per year, which is substantially below the federal poverty level of $7,890 for a single individual.
  • 83% of foster children are held back by the third grade.
  • 46% of former foster youth complete high school (compared to 84% of the general population)
  • 70% of teens who emancipate from foster care report that they want to attend college, but less than 50% complete their high school graduation and fewer than 10% of who graduate from high school enroll and college, and of those less than 1% graduate from college.
  • Of course statistics vary, but when I think of ways that could make a big difference in combating homelessness, incarceration rates, teen pregnancy, etc, I often think that there would be a significant drop in all of these areas if we fixed the foster care system.

    When I was working as a foster youth advocate for the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, there was a surge in popularity of the idea of ‘kinship care,’ where families were encouraged to keep children in the family. During this time I met many foster parents, including many kinship parents, and had a lot of respect for those who were genuinely doing their best to raise what I call “Uncle Sam’s children.”

    To me, the interesting thing about this USA Today article is that it seems likely that kinship care is one terrific answer to the problems that plague the foster care system. This article states statistics that really bring the point home.

    “Children who stay in troubled families fare better than those put into foster care (Source: Study by Joseph Doyle, Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Those who:

    Were arrested at least once:

  • Stayed with family: 14%
  • Went to foster care: 44%

    Became teen mothers:

  • Stayed with family: 33%
  • Went to foster care: 56%

    Held a job at least 3 months:

  • Stayed with family: 33%
  • Went to foster care: 20%”
  • It’s unlikely that kinship care or allowing more children to stay with their families will be the ultimate solution for the problems that beset foster children in the system, but it does appear to be one more step towards doing the right thing for “Uncle Sam’s” abused and neglected children.