Children & The State: Foster Care in America

Black and Hispanic children are a minority in the overall population; but they comprise a majority of the children in the foster care. Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, April 21, 2013 — Foster care is never an ideal situation for any child. Many factors contribute to children not remaining with their parents. Drug and alcohol abuse, AIDS, mental and physical illness, neglect, domestic violence, physical abuse, abandonment, incarceration, and homelessness are amongst some of the factors which can contribute to a child’s placement in the foster care system.

In addition to these, however, there is another factor that leads to the placement of children in foster care: the superficial and poor training provided to auxiliary support staff (police-officers, paramedics, social workers, health care professionals, teachers, clerics, etc.) who are expected to intercede in altercations in which children and families are involved.

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According to statistics compiled in 2005, there are more than 500,000 children in foster care currently in the United States. While African-American and Hispanic children are in the minority in the overall child population, they comprise a majority of the children in the foster-care system.

Research suggests not only that more of these children are in the system, but that they remain in the system for a longer period of time. African-American children comprise 41 percent of all children in foster care while they are only 15 percent of the population nationwide.

In the state of Connecticut, Hispanic children comprise 25 percent of the foster care system but are only 11 percent of the overall child population. Nationally, fifteen percent of foster care population is comprised of Hispanic children.

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The failure of support services to professionally and expertly intervene in situations which threaten to destroy the family structure has been cited as the reason for such high numbers of minority children in foster care. Not only do those children, who usually enter the system between the ages of six and 18 years of age remain for a longer period of time, it also takes longer for those children who cannot return home to their parents to find adoptive families.

Foster care is supposed to be temporary with the child remaining as a ward of the state where it makes all decisions concerning the child. Adoption, on the other hand, is permanent with the adoptive parents assuming all decision making responsibilities for the child. According to one source, of the 400,000 children entering foster care in six states between 1990 and 2002, 24 percent of African American children were eventually adopted, compared to 16 percent of White or Hispanic Children. It took longer, however, for these adoptions to occur. (Reform Foster Care Now: African American Foster Youth Are Being Adopted, p.1)

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Similarly, children from urban areas placed with relatives were adopted at a higher rate of 26 percent. Without the birth mother’s knowledge or permission, her children were adopted by a relative living in another state.

It has been suggested by The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry that 30 percent of all children in foster care have severe emotional, behavioral, and developmental problems. Physical health problems are also common.

A more permanent situation is always considered to be more ideal. Among these are reunification with the parents, adoption by a biological family member, adoption by a foster parent, adoption by someone not known to family, and the permanent transfer of guardianship to a foster parent.

Foster parenting also differs from adoption in that foster parents are reimbursed on a monthly basis for expenditures they make on behalf of the children. According to some, the foster parents are “remunerated” by the state for their services. This remuneration and state-aid (welfare benefits) paid to foster families have caused one researcher to suggest that children are intentionally and deliberately taken from their parents by support staff and placed in foster care agencies for state money.

This is particularly true in states such as Texas, which paid mental treatment centers as much as $101,105 a year per child for care, and California. The findings of a grand jury in Santa Clara, California concerning foster care allocations were: “the department (DFCS) puts too much money into ‘back-end services,’ i.e., therapists and attorneys … in other words, the Agency benefits, financially from placing children in foster-homes.”

Despite the failures, unfortunately there are situations in which foster care remains the best solution. The task ahead is to empower families to stay together and to provide well-trained auxiliary employees in recognizing situations which mandate “the careful” use of the foster-care system.

Our rallying cry should therefore be, “empower families before a child ever gets into foster care … not afterwards”.

About The Author: Cleo Brown lives in Manhattan and has a Master’s Degree in Contemporary African-American History from The University of California at Davis and has done work on a Ph.D. in education at The University of San Francisco. She has published several poetry books and is featured in Who’s Who in Poetry.

“Reform Foster Care Now: African American Foster Youth Are Being Adopted”, p.1


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