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Foster Care in America: How it Affects Children

Apr 15, 2008
Approximately 800,000 children end up in a foster care home in America each year. Foster care is designed to help orphaned, abandoned and abused children find homes where they are safe and can receive proper care until a more stable home environment can be found for them. The problem is that the American foster care system is loosely organized and makes living situations hard on the kids involved by not meeting their individual needs fully.

* Who is eligible for foster care?

Foster care is given to any child between the ages of birth and 18 years old. Children are usually placed in a foster home for an average of three years. After that, a child will typically be reunited with his biological family or become permanently adopted by another family. However, some children remain in a foster care situation longer than this timeframe.

* How do young children fare in a foster situation?

Statistics show that young children placed in foster care often have some level of emotional and behavioral problems. They are removed from their homes because of neglect or physical, sexual or verbal abuse. They carry those memories with them for a long time. It may make many children timid around other people or just the opposite; make them direct anger at the families who take them in under the foster care program. Many of these children require mental health services and often have physical disabilities due to poor health.

Children in a foster care program do not do as well on average as their counterparts in school. They have lower grades and perform much worse on standardized tests. Some children become bitter and find themselves in trouble a lot of the time, even to the point of expulsion. This is not only hard on the child, but the family providing care for him.

* What happens to kids who "age out" of foster care?

Children who "age out" of foster care, become too old for the program, may find themselves in a troublesome predicament. While some agencies and previous foster families may help these teenagers transition into adulthood, it is often difficult for the teens to find work and afford another place to live. Sadly, many end up homeless.

Statistics show that children who age out rarely have anyone to turn to for advice or guidance once they reach the maximum foster care age of 18. There are mentoring programs available to help, but these children may not know where to find such outreach programs. Many of these teens become parents themselves at an early age, and only about 46 percent of them actually graduate from high school.

* What about the foster care family?

In almost half of all cases; 46 percent of the time, a child is placed in a foster care home with strangers. This may happen multiple times over the course of the child's participation in the foster care system. Some will be able to live with relatives, and still others may be placed in a foster home that houses a group of foster children under one roof. A foster family is given a small monthly stipend to provide for the foster child, but this is often not enough, especially if a child requires counseling of any sort.

It all seems bleak for the children who are forced into a foster care situation. The purpose of the program is to give these children a loving and nurturing environment to get them through some pretty rough times, but is the system failing these children? Is there a way to make the system work better for these children? This topic is under thorough and continuous investigation. More and more Americans realize that something must change in the foster care system across our nation. Increased awareness in the problems faced by the foster care system is the driving force behind these needed changes. Only the future will tell if we have hit the mark.
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