This paper summarizes the main
reasons that children are brought into foster care. It discusses the several
different types of abuse including, physical, sexual, and neglect. The paper
brings us a closer look at how poverty affects the way a child develops
emotionally and physically. We also look at how parental drug abuse can bring
children into foster care and how their drug abuse plays a role in their life.
The foster care system is far from perfect and this paper takes a closer look
into some of their problems.
Keywords: neglect, poverty, abuse, drug, foster care
How Children in Poverty and Abuse come to
the Broken Foster Care System
Children enter foster care for
a number of reasons. For some children, the journey begins at birth, when it is
clear that a mother cannot care for her newborn infant. Other children come to
the attention of child welfare when a teacher, a social worker, a police
officer, or a neighbor reports suspected child maltreatment to child protective
services. Some of these children may have experienced physical or sexual abuse
at the hands of a loved and trusted adult. More often, parents battling
poverty, substance addiction, or mental illness woefully neglect their
The foster care system is a very important part of the
community. As a foster parent people take into consideration the types of
situations that kids come from to be placed into this system. There are almost
half a million children in foster care in the United States today (U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, 2015). The numbers have doubled since the 1980s, and the type
of children coming in is getting worse. Children and adolescents who enter
foster care often do so with complicated and serious medical, mental health,
developmental, oral health, and psychosocial problems rooted in their history
of childhood trauma. Today more and more children are coming into care as
victims of violence or sexual abuse and neglect.
There is a need for greater efforts to strengthen the
impoverished communities where foster children often come from. When
communities break down, the foster count grows and the cycle feeds itself.
Children are at the greatest risk of poverty. They make up 35% of the U.S.
poor, that is 16.1 million people under the age of 18 (Macionis, 2015) living
in poverty. Many people think that those living in inner cities are the ones
that make up the majority of this number. The majority of the poor children are
white (62%) and live in suburban and rural areas (56%). Psychological research
has demonstrated that living in poverty has a wide range of negative effects on
the physical and mental health and well-being of our nation’s children. Poverty
impacts children within their various contexts at home, in school, and in their
neighborhoods and communities (American Psychological Association, 2016).
Homelessness is another social problem that stems from poverty. There is an
estimated 610,000 people that are homeless on any given night. Homelessness is
primarily an urban problem but it is moving from the central cities to the
suburbs and the rural areas (Macionis 2015).
Poverty is especially harmful
to children during the early years of life. It has been linked to disruptions
in learning and academic performance. Poor children are more likely to repeat a
grade, to be expelled or suspended from school, and to drop out of school.
Children from poor households are also more likely to suffer from chronic
health conditions, including asthma, diabetes, hearing, vision and speech
The United States
foster care system was in a bad financial condition even before the current
economic crisis. Last fall the Washington Post reported “in nearly every
state… the cost of providing basic care for a foster child exceeds the
government’s foster-care reimbursement rate.” Researchers at the
University of Maryland, who conducted the study, factored in basic needs such
as food and clothing. The ensuing economic crisis has likely halted plans for
any future government increase in funding for children currently in foster
and unemployment are some of the main contributing factors to children being
placed in foster care. Considering the current economic condition across the
country, many experts believe it is possible that the number of children
entering foster care will rise in the coming months. The American foster care
system is already facing challenges due to a lack of funding and workers. It is
difficult to recruit and hold on to trained social workers who might improve
the experiences of children in foster homes, which have gained a reputation as
being unsafe in recent years. Further, the economic downturn takes a toll on
struggling families; the number of children and youth entering and remaining in
foster care is expected to increase as the economy worsens. Child welfare
workers are already seeing a rise in reported child abuse and neglect cases,
with increases of more than 20 percent in some areas.
Poverty is defined in terms of inadequate food, shelter, and
clothing. As a result, poverty can be mistaken for and labeled as neglect. The
states definitions of neglect may vary, however they often involve a primary
caretaker knowingly or negligently allowing a minor child to be deprived of the
basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, or care. Children experience
child neglect more than any other form of child maltreatment. In federal fiscal
year 2007, 59% of maltreated children experienced neglect, while only 10.8%
were physically abused (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services USDHHS,
Child neglect depends on how a child and society perceives the parents’
behavior; it is not how parents believe they are behaving towards their child.
Parental failure to provide for a child, when options are available, is
different from failure to provide when options are not available. Neglected
children are at risk of developing lifelong social, emotional and health
problems, particularly if neglected before the age of two years. The definition
of child neglect is broad. There are no specific guidelines that determine when
a child is being neglected; therefore, it is up to state government agencies
and professional groups to determine what is considered neglect. Poverty
and neglect are so intertwined that it often times leads kids in to foster care
more than abuse.
Abuse can be seen
in many different ways for example, emotional, physical or even sexual. The
government defines child abuse as any recent act or failure to act on the part
of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional
harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act, which presents
an imminent risk of serious harm. Child abuse wasn’t an issue until Dr. Kempe
discovered it in 1958. At this time, people believed that they had the
right to discipline their children as they deemed fit. They felt as if what
went on in their own home was a family matter. Child abuse became a social
problem and in 2012, 3.1 million cases were made (Macionis, 2015).
Child fatalities are
the most tragic consequence of maltreatment. In 2014, 50 states reported 1,546
fatalities. Some children who died
from abuse or neglect were already
known to child protective services (CPS) agencies. Of all the children who died from maltreatment in 29
states, 12.2 percent received some sort of family preservation services in the
five years preceding the child’s death. In 38 states, 1.8 percent of children
who died from abuse or neglect had been in foster care and were reunited with
their families in the previous five years (Children’s Rights, 2015).
Sexual abuse is one of
the most perplexing problems that families face. Those that should be
protecting their children are either the perpetrator or oblivious to the fact
that their child is being sexually abused. Child sexual abuse occurs at every
socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and
all levels of education.
Child sexual abuse is
defined in Federal law by the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act as the
employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child
to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit
conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual
depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or
interfamilial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or
other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.
In 2012, 9.3% of cases of maltreatment of children were classified as
sexual abuse. In 2012 there were also 62,939 cases of child sexual abuse that
were reported (DOJ, 2016). These are the types of kids that come in to the
foster care system. While parenting a child who has been removed from his or
her family, they may not know for sure whether or not the child in care has
been sexually abused. Child welfare agencies share all known information about the
child’s history with the potential foster parent. However, there may be no
prior record of abuse, and many children do not disclose past abuse until they
feel safe. For this reason, kinship caregivers, foster or adoptive parents are
sometimes the first to learn that sexual abuse has occurred. Even when there is
no documentation of prior abuse, the foster parent may suspect something
happened because of the child’s behavior.
However, children who
have been sexually abused may demonstrate behaviors that are unusual,
excessive, aggressive, or explicit. There is no one specific sign or behavior
that can be considered proof that sexual abuse has definitively occurred, but
there are a number of signs that are suggestive of abuse. Some signs that we
are taught to look out for are nightmares, trouble sleeping, or fear of the
dark, unexplained avoidance of certain people, places, or activities, an older
child behaving like a much younger child: wetting the bed or sucking a thumb,
for example, talking about a new, older friend, suddenly having money. These
are not normally signs that would associate with your everyday child, but in
foster care these are telling signs. Drugs also play a tremendous role in kids landing in the
foster care system. When kids come into foster care because of drugs it is
because their parents are consuming drugs like heroin. Heroin is a type of
depressant in the form of an analgesic. This is a type of drug that is
typically used to dull pain (Macionis, 2015). The way parents with substance abuse
disorders behave and interact with their children can have a multifaceted
impact on the children. The effects can be both indirect (e.g., through a
chaotic living environment) and direct (e.g., physical or sexual abuse).
Drugs and alcohol can lead to
children being abused, but when drugs are in the picture neglect is a
certainty. Most people who have substance-abuse issues aren’t violent or
abusive, but once someone becomes addicted to a substance your life becomes
about getting or using (drugs) and your money goes towards those things, too.
When there is something taking over your time and your money, kids often then
take the back seat. Kids of
addicts might be left unsupervised or in the care of inappropriate caregivers.
They might fail to thrive from a lack of proper nutrition. They might not get
proper medical attention.
While there are some babies
that come off the drugs, they can suffer tremors, feeding difficulties,
vomiting, diarrhea and sometimes seizures. They also are likely to need
hospital stays of two to four- weeks and sometimes as long as six months, which
makes it difficult for them to bond with a parent or caregiver and causes
lasting developmental challenges. It also makes it more difficult for the
caregiver. Babies that are born with addiction are extremely hard to take care
of and often times don’t go to the greatest homes.
Increasing numbers of children
and youths who enter foster care because of abuse and neglect by chemically
involved parents bring with them their own substance abuse problems. These
youths also tend to continue their drug use after leaving care. The drug habits
of youths in foster care can seriously impede their chances of continuing their
education or finding employment, often with dire consequences. It is not known
how many youths in foster care become homeless once they reach the age of
emancipation, but many youths involved in substance abuse do experience bouts
The problems facing children
in the foster care system in America are varied. The consequences of an
extended period in foster care depend on the child, the situation from which
the child was removed, and the foster parents who provided the child with care.
Although it is possible for a child who has spent just a short period of time
in the system to suffer long term damages, more often the problems only
manifest themselves in children who have spent an extended period of time in
Young adults who have grown
up in foster care also need more help in making the transition to independent
living. When children, especially teens, are placed into group homes, they’re
denied the ability to connect with a permanent, adoptive family. Without those
connections, they’re likely to age out of the system without a supportive
network in place. Aging out is a very common and serious problem in the United
States foster care system. Aging out occurs when a child reaches the age of 18.
Many times they do not graduate from high school, and those
who do complete their education generally receive much lower test scores then
other children of the same age. There are a variety of different reasons, all
of which are directly related to their situation and their existence in the
foster care system. Children who are living in the foster care system do not
experience the same support, encouragement, and stability as their peers. This
has an adverse effect on the education that they receive. The low quality
education that a foster child acquires will negatively impact their future and
may restrict them from effectively providing for them.
The primary goal of social
workers and child protective service agencies is to establish a permanent
situation for a child who has entered the foster care system. A permanent
situation may include adoption or reunification. For all of the reasons that children get placed into the foster care
system the main goal is reunification with their parents. At the end of the day
children are better suited to be with biological parents or family members.
Being placed in foster care is usually a last case scenario and it is a
process. Kids are left in their families even after multiple hotlines and
parents are usually given the benefit of the doubt.
Foster care is intended to
serve as a temporary haven for abused or neglected children who cannot safely
remain with their families. However for some children, the journey through
foster care is characterized by further trauma and abuse; and even in the best
situations, foster care is inherently fraught with uncertainty, instability,
and impermanence. The number of children and families who require foster care
services has grown substantially over the past two decades, and these families
are typically contending with a multitude of complex and interrelated life
challenges such as mental illness, unemployment, substance abuse, and domestic
violence. Child welfare agencies
face chronic organizational challenges that undermine their ability to provide
appropriate case management, services, and supports to the children and
families in their care. Reports of children being injured while in care thrust
the system into crisis and reaction, yet reforms in response to tragedy have
generally failed to result in meaningful change. The social workers that
generally work for the state are young and right out of college. They are
underpaid and overworked so foster parents get a firsthand look at how flawed
the system is.
In sum, the child welfare
system faces daunting challenges. Not a single system at all, but a network of
multiple intersecting and overlapping agencies. The overtaxed child welfare
system has had to take on more children who are suffering from more complex
problems than ever before, all under the white-hot spotlight of media scrutiny.
The crisis orientation that infiltrates the child welfare system can be discouraging
to many hard working professionals in the field, and this is reflected in high
turnover rates among child welfare leaders and caseworkers. However, crisis can
also be a window of opportunity for change. The challenge in front of the child
welfare system is how best to capitalize on the momentum initiated by crisis,
mobilize agents for change, and steer the system toward reforms that will
improve the lives of children who come into foster care.