Term Paper: Foster Children/Foster Care Issues

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[. . .] Beginning in the 1960s, the numbers of reports of child abuse and neglect grew dramatically -- from ten thousand in 1962 (Lindsey, 1996), to almost three million in 1999 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001a). Consistent with legal mandates that certain professionals report suspected child maltreatment, more than half (54.7%) of the reports in 1999 were from professionals (educators, medical staff, law enforcement personnel, social services personnel, and others); the remaining reports were from relatives, friends, neighbors, and anonymous sources (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001a). 1.8 million reports that were investigated were substantiated for child abuse or neglect (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001a).

According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data and the 1997 AFCARS report, children die 5.25 times more as a result of abuse in foster care than children in the general population. In 1997, 2.1% of all child fatalities took place in foster care. Children who received service from Child Protection Agencies die as a result of abuse 16 times more often than children in the general population.

Most children who enter foster care do so following a substantiated report of abuse or neglect, although the proportion of substantiated reports that result in a foster care placement vary from state to state. In 1999, 21% of children determined to be abused or neglected were placed in foster care (approximately 171,000 children, based on the reports of 41 states) (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001a). In addition to those children for whom abuse or neglect are substantiated, 3% of the children who were the subjects of unsubstantiated reports (an estimated 49,000 children in 49 states) are placed in foster care (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001a).

The number of children in foster care rebounded in the late 1980s, began to grow at an even faster pace in the 1960s and 1970s. This growth in the number of children in foster care persists today. The number of children in care in March 2000 was approximately 588,000, more than double the number of children in care in 1984 (U.S. Department of mental Health and Human Services, 2001c).

There are three reasons associated with the increasing number of children in foster care: higher rates of entry into foster care than of exit from care; high rates of re-entry into care; and placement of children in foster care through other systems. Consistently, more children are entering foster care each year than those exiting. For the six-month period from October 1, 1999 to March 31, 2000, 146,000 children entered foster care while 124,000 children exited care (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001c). National as well as state-based analyses of foster care caseloads in the United States have shown that yearly admissions and discharges from foster care, which were fairly equal until 1986, are exhibiting ever-widening disparities (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1991).

Finally, the growing number of children in foster care is also related to placements from other systems, specifically the mental health and juvenile justice systems. Increasingly, foster care is used to care for children and young people who previously have served through children's mental health programs or in correctional facilities. Landverk and Garland (1999) estimate that between one-half and two-thirds of the children who enter foster care have behavioral or emotional problems that warrant mental health treatment. Similarly, Gilbert (1999) found that growing numbers of children with serious emotional problems are relinquished to child welfare agencies by the state so that residential treatment is being arranged for them. Others point to the increasing trend to divert youth into foster care from the juvenile and criminal justice systems (Horn by & Collins, 1981; Timberlake & Verdict, 1987).

The 10% or greater annual growth rate of the population of children in foster care -- a trend affected by increasing disparities between the number of children entering and exiting foster care, high re-entry rates, and placements of children in foster care from other systems -- poses substantial practice and policy challenges related to case planning, decision making, and service delivery. These challenges are likely to become even more significant in the future should the population of children in foster care continue to grow at recent rates.

Average Time Spent in Foster Care

Many children who enter care remain in care for significant periods of time. Throughout the 1980s, the length of time that children spent in care decreased (Tatara, 1993). Beginning in 1990, however, the average length of time that children were in care began to increase (Tatara, 1993). With some fluctuations, the average length of stay in foster care has remained at consistently high levels, with a median length of stay for children in foster care in March 31, 2001 of 21 months (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001c). In a number of states, the average length of stay of children in foster care is even greater. The median length of stay for children in care as of October 1, 1997 was 30 months in the District of Columbia; 35.6 months in Illinois; and 32.1 months in New York (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000b).

Characteristics of Children in Foster Care

Key characteristics of children in foster care -- age, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and health status -- have important implications for the services needed by the children, their foster parents, and their birth families, and impact the nature of foster care today.

Age of Children in Foster Care

Two aspects of the age of children in foster care are key: the age at which children enter foster care and the distribution of children in foster care by age group. The age of children at the time of foster care entry has followed a cyclical pattern. In 1977, 12% of children entering foster care were under the age of 4, 1998a). Federal data for the period October 1, 1999 through March 31, 2000 indicates that the proportion of very young children entering foster care has fallen. Paralleling the data of the late 1970s, 13% of the children entering care during that six-month period were under the age of 1 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001c). A significantly larger percentage of children (42%) were 11 and older at the time they entered care (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001c).

The age of children at time of entry into foster care and the age distribution of children residing in foster care are not directly related. As of March 31, 2000, an extremely small percentage of children in foster care (4%) were under the age of 1; about one-quarter were between 1 and 5 years old; another quarter were between 6 and 10 years old; close to half (45%) were age 11 and older; and a small percentage (2%) were 19 or older (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001c). This data indicates that although younger children continue to constitute a meaningful percentage of the children in foster care, a significant proportion of children who enter foster care, and who are currently in care, are older.

Racial and Ethnic Background

Historically, a large percentage of the children in foster care have been children of color. Although people of color currently constitute approximately 25% of the U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001a), moderate to significant increases in the populations of nonwhite ethnic groups were documented. Between 1980 and 1998, the African-American population increased by 25%; Native Americans and Alaskan Natives by 51%; Latinos by 107%; and Asians and Pacific Islanders by 177% (U.S. Census Bureau, 1999). Increased representation of people of color in the U.S. population as a whole is reflected in the increasingly diverse racial and ethnic makeup of children in the child welfare system. In 1980, 47.3% of children in foster care were children of color; by 1990, the proportion had reached 60.7%; and by 1999, it had increased to 64% (Tatara, 1993; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000a).

Despite the increasing representation of people of color in the U.S. population overall, children of color continue to make up a disproportionate proportion of the population of children in care. In 1990, for the first time, more African-American children than white children were in foster care (Tatara, 1993), a trend that has continued to the present (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000a).

Some studies have shown that increases in the number of children in foster care can be attributed to increased entry rates for children of color. Wulczyn and Goerge (1990), for example, found that the dramatic increase in the number of children in foster care in Illinois between 1987 and 1988 was due entirely to African-American children entering care in numbers disproportionate to their membership in the general population.

Nationwide, Latino, Native American/Alaskan Native, and Asian/Pacific Islander children (who, in 1999, respectively represented 9%, 1%, and 4% of the U.S. child population) are proportionally… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Foster Children/Foster Care Issues."  Essaytown.com.  August 8, 2003.  Accessed June 18, 2019.
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