The Growing Foster Care System

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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The foster care system in the United States is responsible when a child is deemed unsafe in the house they are living in and is put into a group home or private home with parents who have been approved by the government. The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System estimates that the number of children in foster care is 442,995 in 2017. In 2015 and 2016 respectively, there were 427,338 and 436,551 children in foster care. According to the National Council for Adoption, 58% of the cases had a goal of being reunited with a parent or family member while 26% of the cases had the goal of adoption. The number of children in the foster care system is increasing each year due to increased substance abuse in guardians, an adoption rate that is not growing, and not enough employees working in the system.

Parental substance abuse is becoming an epidemic in the country. Substance abuse is often tied with neglect which are the two leading causes of why children must be taken out of their homes. “In FY2016, 92,107 children were removed from their home due to parental drug abuse, a 7% growth over last year.  Among the states with the biggest one-year increases in their foster care population were Indiana, Georgia, and Minnesota. Each of these states has reported extensive substance abuse problems that have continued to climb in the past few years (National Council for Adoption). The increasing drug abuse leads to more children in foster care. The drug abuse can cause parental rights to be stripped away which makes children have to be adopted by another family or a relative.

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Currently, there are over one million employees in the foster care system. A social worker is the person who communicates with the foster care child and finds them foster parents to stay with while they work towards their goal of the case. According to the NASW Child Welfare Report, the average workload per social worker is between 24-31 cases, but the recommended workload from the Children’s Welfare League is 10-15 cases. Having too many cases can cause the social worker to not be able to spend as much time working towards adoption or reunification for each child. This results in foster children staying in the system longer.

The number of children in the foster care system is rising, but the number of adoptions is remaining constant. More children are then forced to remain in the system and go to different foster houses. “In 2014, 50,644 foster kids were adopted a number that has stayed roughly consistent for the past five years (Adoption Statistics). The average child in the system is in foster care for a couple of years, but some never get adopted. Lower adoptions causes more children to be in foster care.

Overall, the number of children is increasing in the foster care system due to less adoptions, a small amount of social workers with too many cases, and the drug abuse epidemic in America. The foster care system is beneficial for children when stayed in until their case goal is met, but it can be harmful after many years. If a child never gets adopted, they might “age-out and be forced to live on their own, sometimes with minimal support from the government or families.

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The Growing Foster Care System. (2019, Sep 04). Retrieved from