Updated: Nov 14
The foster care system is meant to provide temporary care for children whose families are unable to care for them. While it can be a supportive and lifesaving resource to some children, it also presents challenges.
While those with a personal or professional connection to foster care carry insights into the system, most people only have a vague understanding of the foster care system.
So, in honor of Foster Care Awareness Month, here are six things that I believe everyone should know about the foster care system.
1 - Foster Care is Meant to Be a Temporary Solution
The ultimate goal of foster care is to reunify families, and foster care is meant to be a temporary solution. However, this is not always the case.
Roughly half of all children in foster care are never reunified with their family of origin. The second-base alternative is a placement with a trusted relative, but many children are placed with guardians they don’t know and have never met before their placement.
2 – Foster Care is Traumatic
No matter how long the separation is or the circumstances of the separation, foster care is always traumatic. When we also consider the trauma that a child may have endured prior to entering the system, it’s clear why foster kids have unique needs and require specialized care.
Unfortunately, many children do not receive the specialized care they need. While roughly 20% of the general population struggles with mental health issues, a staggering 80% of children in foster care have significant mental health issues.
3 - Kids “Age Out” of the System at 18
When a child in the foster care system turns 18, they “age out,” meaning their foster parents and court professionals are no longer legally obligated to support them or provide them with resources.
While citizens of the US may legally be considerate adults at 18, these young adults still require additional support systems, especially during a time when more than half of all young adults still live with their parents due to the rising cost of living.
Each year, 23,000 children age out of the US foster system, and 20% of those children become instantly homeless.
4 – Nearly 400,000 Kids Are in the Foster Care System at Any Time
At any given time, there are roughly 400,000 kids in the foster care system. Over the years, the number of children in the system has increased, threatening overpopulation in an already stressed system.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic decreased available foster homes for children in need. Foster parents struggled with job losses, financial insecurity, and already overcrowded homes while fearing the risk of exposure.
If more people were aware of the great need for foster parents in the US, we might see an increase in available homes for children in need.
5 - Foster Care Disproportionately Harms Children of Color
Structural violence translates to systemic racism, which is reflected in the foster care system. For example, African Americans make up about 13% of the total population in the US. Meanwhile, 23% of children in foster care are Black.
These figures reflect systemic issues, such as racial bias in child welfare policies and practices, poverty, and lack of access to resources and support.
While foster care is meant to help vulnerable children, the experience is often harmful.
6 – Less Than 5% of Foster Care Survivors Graduate from College
Children in the foster care system end up there due to circumstances that often cause trauma. Then, their experiences in the foster care system cause additional trauma. Oftentimes, children in foster care are not given access to adequate mental health services and the loving families they deserve.
While some of these children grow up to be resilient adults, foster care survivors struggle with many issues related to their trauma.
Final Thoughts: Learn More About Foster Care
There is so much more to learn about foster care and the experiences of children and youth in care. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to read my memoir, “Garbage Bag Suitcase.”
In it, I give a firsthand account of my life before, during, and after the foster care system while also providing grassroots solutions to our broken foster care system.
Learn more and get your copy here.