An Op-Ed piece in the New York Times was brought to my attention recently by Marshall, Michigan Family Lawyer Paula Alyward. The author, Daniel Bornstein explains that foster care for neglected and abused children is not working. It doesn't work for the children, it doesn't work for society.
As Bornstein writes, there were about 424,000 young people in foster care in the U.S. as of Sept. 30, 2009. About 30,000 of these children turn 18 (or 21 in some states) and “age out” of foster care every year. He asks, "What happens to them?" Bornstein cites a major study published in 2010 that demonstrates that the answer to that question is discouraging.
He says that even though there are many wonderful foster parents and many foster care alumni who overcome tough odds, most kids who've grown up in foster care struggle to live successfully as adults. "By age 23 or 24, fewer than half of the former foster care youths in the study were working. Close to a quarter had no high school diploma or equivalency degree and only 6 percent had completed a two- or four-year post-secondary degree. Nearly 60 percent of males had been convicted of a crime and 77 percent of females had been pregnant." It's those last two statistics that are really staggering (and also connected to the other statistics).
Those statistics aren't too surprising when one considers that the average foster care youth goes through more than three placement changes and 65 percent experience seven or more school changes and about a quarter suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, up to twice the rate for U.S. war veterans.)
Bornstein writes that a promising alternative to foster care is gaining traction — an alternative that faces opposition because it represents a departure from long-held assumptions in our child welfare system. The idea is to help youths return to their original families wherever it is possible to do so safely by providing their parents, or in some cases other relatives, with an extensive array of in-home support services. According to Bornstein, evidence indicates that intensive in-home services can bring substantial changes in families — and produce more successful outcomes than out-of-home models like foster homes or institutional care.
We're seeing more grandparents providing a home and care for their grandchildren every day now. Surely this is something to be encouraged.
You may read David Bornstein's Op-Ed piece A Families-First Approach to Foster Care (Feb 21, 2011) here.