Essay on The Problem Of Foster Children


According to Meghan McCann, the senior policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures, eighty percent of American adults who experienced foster care as a child suffer mental illness. When it is realized that only about 20 percent of the general US population can say the same, this becomes a shocking statistic (McCann). America's neglected children who go into foster care tend to show symptoms of mental illness, such as clinginess, withdrawal, and coping mechanisms that go with anxiety and depression. There are many problems within the American foster care system, and learning what they are is the first step to fixing them.

The early years of a child's life greatly impact how they perform in school. To clarify, in an article titled The Problem, Foster America, a nonprofit organization committed to improving the lives of America’s foster youth, stated that less than half of foster children don’t graduate on time (“The Problem”). Foster children are commonly between the ages of 6 and 10, which makes them elementary students. Even at that age, foster children are performing more poorly than their peers. The low performance is likely due to lack of nourishment and love as infants (often for the same reasons that they ended up in foster care) and the absence of support at foster homes. Their carers don’t receive enough resources to feed a child properly, let alone emotionally support and nurture them, along with helping them with their homework and playing with them. With this in mind, Child Trends, a leading research organization focused on improving the lives of America’s vulnerable youth, conducted a survey, which concluded that only 48% of high schoolers who had aged out of the foster care system in the past few years had graduated from high school. Only 54% of these youth graduated two to four years after discharge (“Foster Care” 2). Foster youth age out of foster care at age 18, and although many states offer support until they turn 21, these kids haven’t been prepared to face the world, especially without a high school diploma. It is nearly impossible for an 18 year old to attend high school and support themselves simultaneously. Only 2.5% of kids who age out of foster care at 18 go on to earn a bachelor's degree by 26. As a result of poor support and limited education as children, former foster kids tend to struggle to support themselves as adults. 

Mental health is also a big problem in the American foster care system. To emphasize, Foster America states that “The system places too many poor and minority children in foster care who could be kept safely at home, shuffles children between multiple foster homes and institutions, and further traumatizes them at each step.”  They continue by saying, “Children in foster care are 4 times more likely than other children to attempt suicide.” (“The Problem”). Not all foster care assignments work out. In fact, most of them don’t. Every time a foster situation fails, the child is moved, forcing them to readjust to another home, and miss school in the process. The readjustment often triggers anxiety/panic attacks. As a result, many more foster children attend therapy regularly than other kids, since more of them experience mental illness and trauma. In addition, the lack of support for foster children continues to impair them as adults. According to Child Trends, 1 in 6 adults who were abused as children experience domestic violence (“Foster Care” 2).  While not all kids in foster care have been abused, a vast majority of them can only dream of belonging to a loving family. Most people with troubled childhoods end up with social issues, repeating the cycle of abuse, neglect, and foster care with their own children. The American foster care system needs to come up with a solution to end this chain of mental illness and hopelessness for foster children. 

Multiple countries around the world have come up with a more effective foster care system than the one used by the United States and Canada, who tend to remove children from their homes (whether they are with their parents or foster families) as soon as a problem arises. For example, in an article titled How does Foster Care Affect the Mind of a Child? which was published on the website mom.com, Suzanne Robin, a registered nurse with 25 years of experience, claims that 33 to 66 percent of foster care arrangements are interrupted within the first two years (Robin). Since moving so often has been shown to trigger mental illness, Australian officials have taken the money previously used to pay foster parents and transferred it into support funds for struggling families in an effort to keep children with their parents as long as the child is not being abused in any way. A school in Delhi, India, has removed adult parents from the picture completely. Instead, they provide the eldest siblings with enough money and support to take adequate care of their younger siblings. This teaches the children responsibility and trust, and they don’t have to deal with abusive parents or strange foster families. A specific example that shows the flaws of Canadian foster care (which closely resembles America’s) is the story of Jordan Quinney. Pat Hansard, a reporter for the Alberta newsmagazine, in an article titled Why did Jordan Quinney Die?, which was published in the Alberta Report, says that “It would be a happier world if all parents could be better than Jordans mother, Daina Carpenter.” (Hansard). Jordan was the four year old big brother to two half siblings (the same mother, all different fathers. His own father was not part of his life, so when his mother’s newest partner, Troy McCafferty, began hitting him, Jordan went to live with his mom's sister Dean and her family. However, after Mr. McCafferty fathered Jordan’s half-sister Shaniece, he was able to convince authorities that Jordan would be safe with his mom and Troy. Jordan wanted to be with Daina, so his grandma reluctantly let him go. On the morning of January 28, 1998, Daina found Jordan dying in his bed, covered with bruises and unmoving. She performed CPR, but it was too late. Jordan passed away before the ambulance arrived. The problem with Jordan’s death is that social services hadn’t bothered to notify his family, even though they had requested updates and gone to visit Jordan multiple times. There was no good reason for this, and more attention should’ve been paid to what Daina’s mom and sister had to say about the situation. Talking to teachers, babysitters, and neighbors would have also been effective, not only for Jordan, but for many other children as well. No child should ever have to live with their abuser. To summarize, there are many problems with America's traditional foster care system, and other countries around the world have been able to solve those problems. 

There are multiple ways the American foster care system could be improved. In an interview with David Hoffman, an advocate of Santa Cruz Family and Children's Services, Gabriella, a former foster child, says, “I had a childhood… I didn’t have mom, and that was more important to me than to have a childhood.” (Hoffman, 9:05). Later on in the interview, Gabriella, quoting her mom, states “... putting me in foster care was the best decision she had ever made... no one wants to hear that.” Gabriella wasn’t physically abused, but her mother was an alcoholic, and when child neglect became evident, Gabriella was placed in foster care. Foster care was traumatizing for Gabriella, as it is for most kids, and a more effective solution to her problem would’ve been putting time and money into helping her mom become a better parent and allowing Gabriella to stay with her. Kinship care is another good solution for America's foster care problem. In 2014, 46 percent of all foster children lived in the homes of non-relatives. 29% lived in foster homes with relatives, which is often called kinship care. (“Foster Care” 3). Kinship care is a good choice for many children, but usually won’t work long term, since most relatives aren’t interested in adoption, they just want to help their family. As many as 66% of foster children end up returning to their birth family within two years (Robin). Since birth parents tend to be a childs’ default guardian, foster parents and family involved in kinship care generally aren’t very informed about a child’s situation. Even if a child would rather be with their foster family, America’s system gives birth parents the say about who their child lives with, and the amount of kids being reunited with their parents after foster care is higher than it would be. To sum up, the American foster care system needs improvement, and allowing everyone involved in a child’s life, including the child himself, to have a say in the child's situation is a good place to start. 

In conclusion, changes to the American foster care system are necessary if a positive experience is desired for all the children in foster care. Today’s foster care system doesn’t provide a solid education for foster children, and mental health issues among these children are holding them down long after they turn eighteen. Countries around the world have come up with solutions to many of the problems that come with foster care, and if the Federal government puts some of their solutions to use in the United States, the American Foster Care System will greatly improve. The amount of kids in foster care is gradually increasing, and if some of the problems with the system are not addressed soon, poorly educated, mental illness ridden, malnourished children will become the norm. The United States is better than that. The United States can overcome these problems and raise happy, healthy citizens.

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