The Foster Care Crisis in the U.S.

As Sherry Lachman, the founder and executive director of Foster America, details in an op-ed in the New York Times, our nation has a foster care crisis.  In large part because of America’s opioid crisis, the number of children in foster care has risen from 400,000 in 2011 to 440,000 today.  Many Americans struggling with such addictions are unable to care for their children, contributing to skyrocketing increases in the number of children in foster care in Montana, Georgia, West Virginia, and numerous other states.  More children entered foster care in 2015 and 2016 because of parental drug abuse than any other category including inadequate housing.

“Child welfare agencies across the country are doing heroic work,” Lachman argues, but they cannot recruit enough foster parents “to meet the growing demand.”  As a result, some children sleep in social welfare offices, while many others languish in bleak, prison-like institutions, without a loving family.  Many more kids bounce from one foster home to another, which deepens their feeling of abandonment, disrupts their education, and cuts off vital relationships with relatives, friends, and teachers.

Our broken foster care system has devastating consequences for both children and our country. Children who spend time in foster care are five times more likely than those who do not to abuse drugs.  An appalling 70 percent of juvenile delinquents have been in foster care.  One-third of homeless young adults grew up in part, at least, in foster homes. 

While some social workers, foster parents, and organizations such as Foster Adopt Connect are making heroic and unsung efforts to help foster children, the United States has not made this a priority.  We have no national foster care movement, no social media campaigns, and no protesters on the streets fighting to help these children.  No organizations with wide recognition like AARP or Teach for America advocate for them.  Elected officials ignore them.

Unfortunately, few involved in the nonprofit, philanthropic, or government sectors, Lachman contends, view the foster care crisis as their problem, even though it is a major cause of many problems, including our society’s mass incarceration and economic inequality, that they are working assiduously to solve.

Lachman argues correctly that overworked, underpaid social workers cannot fix the broken foster care system.  Our society must recognize that the child welfare situation is an emergency and provide increased funding and improved policies.  The crisis can be solved only if more philanthropists, advocates, and celebrities champion the cause of foster children and more families “open their homes and hearts.”  Lachman maintains that marketing experts are needed to publicize the fact that 100,000 foster children are available to be adopted and to help enlist more foster parents.

Lachman points out that issues such as drug addiction, homelessness, and the foster care crisis often seem overwhelming.  “By the time they make the headlines,” she asserts, “they have been building for years, and they are overwhelming, exhausting our communities’ resources and spiraling beyond our control.”  They started out small, however, often with a child needing to have a safe and loving home.  By supporting such children, we can change their lives and write much happier headlines a generation from now.

Gary SmithComment