How Bad Is the Foster Care System?

As with everything in life, there are ups and downs. Even the most well-intentioned programs meant to help those in need have their flaws. Some ask very harsh questions that we need to address. How bad is the foster care system?

The foster care system in the United States is considered bad by some for many reasons, as more than half of young people who were once part of the system are now unemployed, homeless, or incarcerated. Many children are in abusive foster homes, overly medicated, and suffer from instability due to the shortage of foster homes.

The foster care system in the United States is a major problem for many reasons, and child welfare agency leaders play a large role in resolving these issues.

Happy, small children on the floor with their hands up, covered in paint.

How Bad is the Foster Care System?

There are over 400,000 children taken into government custody yearly; an overwhelming number compared to the number of foster homes willing to take them in.

The United States has always had its challenges with the foster care system, but recently the nation has begun to make strides in how it cares for children who are removed from their families.

With new policies put into place, many feel that foster care is improving. However, more than half of young people who were once part of the foster care system are unemployed, homeless, or incarcerated.

This is because when the child becomes of age, they are oftentimes set out into the cold world with no support system.

These children lack a solid family unit to lean on while they wear their adult training wheels. There is no one there to pick them up when they fall.

Many couch surf until they have worn out their welcome and eventually become homeless with nowhere to go.

Some believe that the issue goes much deeper than the lack of a support system for foster children who age out of the system.

The lack of foster care providers causes an enormous challenge, as existing foster care providers are overburdened.

The funds to support the foster care system in most states aren’t enough to support the caseworkers in a way that would make a difference.

Caseworkers are burdened with more cases than they can effectively handle. This creates backlogs of paperwork and delays in getting children the support they need.

Is the Foster Care System Abusive?

The foster care system is a complicated and often confusing part of the United States legal system. But is the foster care system abusive?

The foster care system can be abusive to some children, but certainly not to all. A reported 44% of foster children said they experienced physical abuse in a foster home, and 30% reported being sexually abused. A reported 74% of foster children were overmedicated for behavioral problems.

The overwhelming truth is that there are many abusive foster homes within the system, and an abundance of evidence supports this claim.

According to the Child Welfare League of America, almost 60% (that is close to 8 out of every 15 foster children) say they have never known a safe place with consistent love and support.

One reason for this is that there is a lack of funds for the system, making it hard to provide homes that are either healthy or safe.

There is also an enormous amount of red tape involved in foster care cases, with an average case taking over 7 years to be closed out.

The foster families that are available for foster children are, just like the caseworkers, strained. The number of children needing a safe foster home outnumbers the number of foster homes available.

With the foster care system stretched thin, the foster parents that our system does have do not get the support and resources they need.

Caseworkers are loaded down with more cases than they can handle. Children remain in situations longer than they should due to the overburdened system’s red tape.

Lack of funds seems to be the real culprit here. State governments need more caseworkers as well as foster parents.

Although foster parents are indeed paid by the state for each foster child that they care for, many feel it’s not worth what they have to deal with.

The truth is that many people are not aware of or cannot afford the requirements to take care of children, which is another reason for the high number of children abused.

Caring for foster children is very taxing. These children are not always simple to have in one’s household and can be quite a challenge to discipline.

That is not at all to suggest that all foster children have behavior issues because many are wonderful yet just need a safe place to live.

And at the same time, so many of these children have suffered trauma, loss, and grief. These children are experiencing a load of fluctuating emotions such as anger, sadness, depression, and defiance.

Hurt children behave in many different ways as they learn to channel their feelings constructively.

Many foster parents underestimate how difficult a responsibility it would be to care for a foster child and end up quitting.

They realize how much work is involved and change their minds about their desire to be a foster parent.

Is having only one spare bedroom enough to be a foster parent? Learn the 9 requirements here.

How Effective is the Foster Care System?

The foster care system is an extensive and multiple-faceted federally run program that is designed to provide children with a safe, nurturing environment.

The foster care system can accomplish this by placing children who have been maltreated or removed from their homes into the custody of qualified state-licensed caregivers.

Even though the system is intended as a temporary means of protecting children, it is not without its shortcomings.

Foster care is needed, because there are situations where parents are unable to provide adequate care for their children, either because of some temporary or permanent incapacity.

When this is the case, someone else must assume responsibility for the child’s well-being.

This is where foster care comes into play. The goal of foster care is to provide short-term, safe, nurturing environments for children who are unable to remain with their biological parents.

This is accomplished through both the licensing of caregivers who meet state qualifications and federal reimbursement that is given to states that effectively place children into homes (Children’s Rights, 2010).

The foster care system in the United States has over 450,000 foster children.

There are more than 100 foster care agencies across the U.S. with varying standards of conditions.

The foster care system is so complex that it requires a large amount of funding to operate.

Many foster children are also non-adoptable, which means they would never be adopted by foster families even if foster agencies had enough resources to support them.

Some foster children are never adopted and spend their entire lives in foster homes, which drains foster agencies’ funding.

Due to low income caused by higher caseloads, it is difficult for foster families to take care of foster children with special needs.

Further research is required to make foster care more efficient. Foster agencies must prioritize fostering children with special needs in every possible way.

Foster families and caseworkers should not be burdened by too many cases, and foster agencies should increase their support for foster children with special needs.

Providing foster families with higher salaries would help to encourage more foster families, and more state funding for more caseworkers is desperately needed.

Foster care systems in the United States work for some foster children, but not all. The foster care system should be improved so that more foster children have a chance to successfully return to their own families.

Would you like to take your foster child on a vacation with you but wondering how that works? Find out if traveling with your foster child is OK.

Why Do Foster Parents Quit?

We see it often when a foster family eagerly signs up to be foster parents with good intentions. And an all-too-common scenario is that, within the first year, many quit. Why do foster parents quit?

Foster parents quit due to a lack of support, lack of communication with overburdened caseworkers, inadequate training, and being made to feel unimportant in their role in the child’s life. Some also underestimate how challenging it can be to parent children suffering from trauma, loss, and grief.

Many reasons exist why some foster parents in the United States quit.

One of these reasons is that all of the hard work and love that goes into fostering a child doesn’t always lead to a happy ending.

Despite difficult beginnings, children deserve to find their forever home and not be passed around from one foster home to another.

Sadly, some of the best foster parents quit.

Additionally, some reasons why foster parents quit include:

  • Long work hours
  • Low pay rates for foster parents result in burn-out
  • Trying to meet the needs of multiple children at once is overwhelming, especially without proper training or development of parenting skills
  • Lack of support from social workers and the court system leads to a feeling of isolation.  

One of the reasons some foster parents in the US quit is that fostering a child is not easy.

Not only do they have to be able to provide for the basic needs of children, but they also have to act as parents to these young people who are just starting in life.

Not only do foster parents have to make sure that children are kept safe, fed, clothed, and clean, but they also need to be present emotionally for these children.

The work that goes into fostering a child is significant, and many foster parents don’t know what they are getting themselves into.

For a foster family to provide the best care possible, there needs to be training and guidance available in addition to ongoing support and resources.

Without these things in place, foster parents face many challenges and reasons why some foster parents quit. 

Considering becoming a foster parent? Learn the pros and cons and become fully informed.

Trina Greenfield - Adoption Author

About the Author:
Trina Greenfield is passionate about providing information to those considering growing their family. Trina does not run an adoption agency. Her website is strictly information-based, so she is able to provide unbiased, credible information that she hopes will help guide those along their journey.