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Adoption Vs Foster Care Paper

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One of the purposes of the U.S. child welfare system is to reunify children with their parents or to offer children permanency, or long-term, living arrangements rather through guardianship or adoption. In 2016 alone, over 100,000 children were removed from their homes and placed into foster care (“Number of Children”, 2017). As a whole, there are over 430,000 children in the United States foster care system and approximately 112,000 of these children are waiting to be adopted (Ahmann,2017). Based on reports by the Children’s Bureau at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the number of children in foster care in 2016 increased to 437,500 from 427,400 reported in the previous year (“Number of Children”, 2017). With the increase of children entering foster care, foster care adoptions also increased from 54,000 in 2015 to 57,000 in 2016. While the incline in adoption is great, this data also illustrates that a vast majority of the children who enter foster care do not progress into long-term placement, which can subject children who grow out of the foster care system to poor adult outcomes.

The deficit in adoption and permanent placement may be attributed to the adoption seeking parent’s preferences in characteristics of the adoptive child. The National Survey of Family Growth found that a number of families who began the adoption process actually adopt a child (Brooks, James & Barth, 2002). And those surveyed held very strong preferences for race, age, disability status and if the child had other adoptive siblings, but there were only a few conditions the families held no preferences such as gender or religious affiliation (Brooks, James & Barth, 2002). Of these preferences, the children who seem to be at the biggest disadvantage within the foster care system were African American and older children, individually.

Children from African American families were found to be 3x more likely reported to Child Protective Services (CPS) compared to children from any other race (Maloney, Jiang, Putnam-Hornstein, Dalton & Vaithianathan, 2017). Risk factors such as unemployment rates, educational attainment, poverty levels and overall lack of resources increases the likelihood of CPS involvement in African American families. In 2017, approximately 20% of births in black families in the United States were teenage mothers compared to the teenage births in white families that was 3.8% (Moloney, et al., 2017). Black families are also leading with 42% of children in foster care, followed by 32% white, 15% Latino and 2% Native American or Asian (Brooks, James & Barth, 2002). African American children take up a large percentage of the foster care system.

Most Caucasian women seeking to adopt a child have a strong preference for a Caucasian child, but 73% say that they would accept African American children; however, only about 5% of these individuals who say they are willing to adopt African American children truly do (Brooks, James & Barth, 2002). Similarly, African American women share their preference for an African-American child but would be accepting of Caucasian child (Brooks, James & Barth, 2002). Potential adoptive parents shared that these preferences were based on the possibilities of adjustment issues or other problems that could occur from a transracial placement. And while families are entitled to their choices, a large number of children are also being overlooked for adoption.

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Most women looking to adopt children express preference in adopting younger children; About 60% of the potential adoptive parents preferred a child that was under 2 years old of age, almost 90% were accepting of a child between the ages of 2 and 4; however, only 30% were willing to accept a child that was over 12 years old (Brooks, James & Barth, 2002). These preferences greatly reduces the chances of most children in foster care being adopted. About 43% of the children in foster care are 8 years or older and half of those children have been in the system for over two years while 33% have been in foster care for over three years (Ahmann, 2017). Additionally, children that are not adopted at the age of 8 have a very small likelihood of being adopted while children who are 12 years or older are almost certain to age out of the foster care system before they are adopted (Ahmann, 2017).

Older children are often viewed as at-risk due to their perceived inability to effectively adapt to new foster parents, as well as their high emotional and behavioral needs (White, 2016). It is a traumatic experience when children have to separate from their original caregivers but it is even more traumatic when a child is continuously changes placements just to later re-enter foster care and constantly readjust (Maloney et al., 2017). In fact, over 20,000 teens were emancipated from foster care in 2015 alone without having a permanent placement (Ahmann, 2017). These adverse experiences with placements within foster care only yield negative outcomes in their adult life.

These youth who exit the foster care system without being reunified with their family or finding placement are at the highest risk for negative outcomes compared to those who never entered the foster care system. Only half of youth who exit foster care obtain a high school diploma, 41% have some involvement with criminal justice system, over 30% experience some form of homelessness and 40% do not have enough funds to meet basic needs (Ahmann, 2017). In terms of mental health, over half of all assessed foster care alumni between 20 and 33 years of age, met the criteria for at least one mental health disorder compared to 21% of individuals within the general population in a similar age group (Garcia et al., 2015). And approximately 30% of those who met criteria suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, but only one in five emancipated youth actually receive mental health services (Ahmann, 2017). With such, foster children lacking permanent placement goes beyond housing, but this inconsistency and discontinuity in placement affects their life in many other aspects.

I have worked in various roles within group homes with children in foster care. While the foster care system’s main goal is to ensure the safety of all children through reunification or permanent placement, children receiving adequate care, support, and autonomy is just as important. Although I do not work in the foster care setting anymore, I am passionate about children within foster care getting the necessary resources that they need to live a more fulfilling life during foster care and well after. There needs to be more resources that are provided to help youth who age out of foster care.

While there is funding in place to support foster children as they age out of foster care, there is no doubt a high percentage of foster youth do not prosper after leaving foster care. Having the appropriate support while navigating through early adulthood is important. Many youth aging out of foster care have relationships with adults who offer support such as their social worker or counselor, but these relationships are usually very professional and vary greatly from support that one may get from a family member (Ahmann, 2017). The Family & Youth Initiative found that these more personable relationships yielded better results for children exiting foster care as they are able to develop a trusting bond with others outside of the foster care system and these more diverse social networks help with their overall life satisfaction (Ahman, 2017). Requiring mentorship programs upon exiting foster care could help youth adjust to life outside of foster care as well as help with their career development, housing stability, and overall wellness. When youth enter the foster care system, it is our duty to make sure that they have all possible resources to live a viable life and their life goes beyond foster care.


  1. Ahmann, E. (2017). Supporting Youth Aging Out of Foster Care. Pediatric Nursing, 43(1), 43–48. Retrieved from
  2. Brooks, D., James, S., & Barth, R. P. (2002). Preferred Characteristics of Children in Need of Adoption: Is There a Demand for Available Foster Children? Social Service Review, 76(4), 575.
  3. Garcia, et al(2015). Adverse Childhood Experiences and Poor Mental Health Outcomes Among Racially Diverse Foster Care Alumni: Impact of Perceived Agency Helpfulness. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 24(11), 3293–3305.
  4. Maloney, T., Jiang, N., Putnam-Hornstein, E., Dalton, E., & Vaithianathan, R. (2017). Black-White Differences in Child Maltreatment Reports and Foster Care Placements: A Statistical Decomposition Using Linked Administrative Data. Maternal & Child Health Journal (Vol. 21, pp. 414–420).
  5. Number of children in foster care continues to increase. (2017). Retrieved from
  6. White, K. (2016). Placement Discontinuity for Older Children and Adolescents Who Exit Foster Care Through Adoption Or Guardianship: A Systematic Review. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, 33(4), 377–394.
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