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Beyond Awareness: Understanding the Interconnections of Foster Care and Societal Challenges

May is foster care awareness month, and this year, I'd like to increase awareness about the foster care system and how it ties into other social issues we hope to heal from.

Foster Care Awareness Month is traditionally a time dedicated to highlighting the needs and challenges within the foster care system.

This year at Chefalo Consulting, we're going to do something a little different. My goal is to broaden the conversation. In this article, we'll explore how the foster care system is intricately linked with broader societal issues that we all hope to heal from.

The challenges we face in child welfare are not isolated—they are symptomatic of larger systemic issues that affect all of us, particularly our most vulnerable populations.

Staggering Foster Care Statistics

Did you know that 74% of incarcerated adults spent time in foster care? Or that 80% of death row inmates are former foster kids?

There is a foster-care-to-prison pipeline in the US that many of us are ignorant of. Kids end up in foster care through no fault of their own, and they experience trauma before, during, and after placements that can impact the trajectory of their lives.

In the 90s, the ACEs study illuminated the devastating impacts that trauma has, including early death and illness. Experiencing foster care is traumatic; and we can see the impacts of childhood trauma play out in the statistics that tell the story of lives harmed by bigger systems at play:

  • On average, children in foster care move every five months.

  • 60% of child sex trafficking victims spent time in the foster care system.

  • Foster youth are almost five times more likely to struggle with substance use.

  • 50% of girls in foster care are pregnant by age 19.

  • Foster care alumni are nearly four times more likely to have attempted suicide.

  • 74% of incarcerated adults spent time in foster care.

  • 80% of death row inmates are former foster kids.

It's not a coincidence. It's a pattern that tells the story of the structurally violent systems in our lives.

Foster Care and Racial Disparities: A Mirror to Inequality

One of the most glaring truths about the US foster care system is its disproportionate impact on Black and Brown children and families. These children are not only more likely to enter foster care but also to remain in the system longer and face poorer outcomes.

According to a 2023 report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Black children are twice as likely as white children to be placed in foster care; and Black children are twice as likely as white children to experience maltreatment while in foster care.

This disparity is not a simple matter of individual circumstances but a reflection of systemic inequalities that pervade every aspect of society—from education and housing to employment and healthcare.

The unjust treatment of Black and Brown folks in the foster care system mirrors injustice in other areas of society, suggesting a deeply interconnected crisis.

Black and Brown families are often the hardest hit by other systemic issues, including the housing crisis, educational inequities, and economic instability—factors that significantly contribute to the likelihood of children entering the foster care system.

By addressing the root causes and starting to see the entire picture, we can begin to unravel the threads of inequality that hold many back and perpetuate cycles of poverty and trauma.

Foster Care, Homelessness and Economic Strain

I often meet people who are interested in tackling one "area of interest" such as homeless and the housing crisis or racial equity or foster care. What I wish people understood is that it's all the same issue.

The connection between foster care and homelessness is particularly striking, with former foster youth facing significantly higher risks of becoming homeless compared to their peers.

When children turn 18 (regardless of their housing or education situations) upon turning 18, the US foster care system essentially says, "You're no longer our problem." Housing, money for groceries, and any other support to help kids meet their basic needs are taken away.

It happened to me, and it happens every day to more and more kids.

Roughly 23,000 children age out of the US foster care system every year (that's an estimated 63 kids a day). An estimated 31% to 46% of youth exiting foster care experience homelessness by age 26.

These statistics can serve as a somber reminder of how the absence of stable, supportive systems can lead to dire outcomes.

The cost of living crisis exacerbates these challenges, as rising housing and living costs disproportionately impact those already on the edge. When a basic need such as housing is not met, it pushes more families toward instability, increasing the likelihood of children entering foster care and building barriers to children leaving foster care.

Broader Implications: The Criminal Justice System and Socioeconomic Policies

The overrepresentation of foster youth in the criminal justice system highlights the interconnected web of outcomes for those who have experienced trauma and instability.

Youth who have been in foster care are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system, a cycle often perpetuated by systemic biases and a lack of supportive interventions.

I'm currently working in a prison system, helping embed trauma-informed approaches into how professionals appraoch inmates and resolve problems. While this is a very large project that requires collaborative efforts, small shifts have already had massive impacts.

By seeing how all of our major social issues are interconnected, we can begin to see how reforms in one area can impact reforms in others.

Final Thoughts: Trauma-Informed Systems Change

As a former foster youth, I came to this work because I wanted to improve outcomes for as many people as possible. Trauma-informed systems change provides an evidence-based framework that teaches us how to embody healing-centered practices in all that we do.

I truly believe that trauma-informed practices provide a path forward for us to start resolving the systemic issues that impact our most vulnerable populations.

The challenges within the foster care system reflect broader societal failures that require a holistic approach to healing and reform. As we observe Foster Care Awareness Month together, I urge you to commit to understanding these interconnections and advocating for systemic changes that uplift all individuals, especially our children.

To truly make a difference, we must look beyond temporary fixes and work towards sustainable, trauma-informed systemic change. Follow Chefalo Consulting on our social media platforms and sign up for our email list to learn more about how you can contribute to meaningful change in your personal and professional life.


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