Benjamin Eaton was America’s first foster child at 7 years old. Since then, Charles Loring Brace started the free foster home movement in 1853. Now, there is approximately 440,000 foster youth nationwide. When it comes to the topic of foster care, most experts will readily agree that emancipating youth do become homeless. Where this agreement usually ends, however, is on the question of why they become homeless. Whereas some are convinced that it is due to their behavior, others maintain that the foster care system does not provide the necessary training in assisting emancipating youth transitioning into adulthood.
Firstly, Amy Dworsky and Mark Courtney have PhDs in Social Welfare. With Dworsky’s experience in researching vulnerable youth populations, they studied the percentage of youth who were homeless once emancipating out of care from Arizona, California, Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania, New York, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Washington State, and Nevada. They identified the different factors and previous data on how youth transition out of the foster care system and into adulthood. They argue that little is known about how different demographic, familial background or placement history characteristics either contribute or protect against homelessness in the transition into adulthood, which limits their research. However, they found that the absence of familial relationships or even a guiding adult figure in their life is a contributing factor to the youth who become homeless. From this, they conducted a longitudinal study on 732 youth from Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois transitioning out of the foster care system. 14% of the youth became homeless. From a policy perspective, Dworsky and Courtney think that states should use their Chafee dollars to provide housing assistance to foster youth after they leave care. In addition to their study, they looked at placement history characteristics such as educational challenges, differences between those who exit with a high school diploma or GED, and those who don’t, psychological problems (mental health or substance use), and social support/relationships. Ron Haskins, who studies the economic impact on children and families in the foster care system, referenced the study conducted by Dworsky and Courtney and verifies that without family relationships or a guiding adult figure, children often act out and are resistant to adult supervision. He argues that foster kids are the most disadvantaged kids in the nation. As the co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution, he advocates for CHAMPS, a national campaign that will advocate for quality foster parenting by reforming state policies, promoting federal policies, and educating the public on the issues at hand. Haskins believes that CHAMPS is a wonderful initiative that will improve foster parenting, which is what foster youth need. Without a family environment and structure, foster kids are left to group homes and institutions, where they do not feel supported and loved.
Adoption is a great way for kids to exit the foster system. Out of the 440,000 foster children in America, roughly 100,000 are eligible for adoption. However, the process is very lengthy and there are not enough families willing to adopt. The National Council for Adoption (NCFA) publishes articles in their journal called Adoption Advocate. Nicholas Zill, a doctoral student researcher at UC Berkeley believes that adoption positively benefits children, but also saves money in the short and long term. By writing, “Comparing the per-child cost of subsidized adoption from foster care with the cost of maintaining a child in foster care, one concludes that the child adopted from foster care costs the public only 40 percent as much as the child who remains in foster care. The difference in cost per child per year amounts to $15,480” (pg 2), Zill proves the amount the public can save, appealing for them to think about adoption and advocate for it as well. He believes that adoptive families are less likely than foster or biological families to have income below the poverty level. He encourages child welfare agencies to consider connecting foster children to adoptive families rather than reunifying them with biological family members when it is not ideal, especially when it is not in the child’s best interests. However, Wayne Winston Sharp, who was appointed Chairman of the NCFA’s task force on foster care in 2013, wants to increase public awareness of the youth who are not adopted from foster care. He reminds us that society rises and falls together. When youth drop out of high school or fail to seek higher education or careers, they earn $10,386 less than the typical high school graduate (Sharp pg. 5). This significant difference decreases high school dropout’s standard of living. Furthermore, Sharp argues that extending foster care until the age of 21 paves the way for more opportunities. He applauds the 26 states who understand the benefits of extending care and who extended financial support from 18 to 21. The NCFA’s Task Force factors for success are: Leadership by the Governor, and top public officials, in making adoption out of foster care a personal priority, and the establishment of partnerships with private adoption and faith-based organizations to stretch or save public funds. Sharp’s argument is ideal since it will support the kids who have aged out financially, and guide them. His line of reasoning uses emotionally appeals to readers and proves the economic benefits of adoption.
While adoption is one of the best ways for kids to exit the foster care system, Charles A. Williams understands that not all foster children will be adopted out of the system. He insists on implementing mentoring programs. Williams grew up in the foster care system and champions adoption as a way to achieve permanence for children whose parents cannot care for them. He argues that these mentoring programs guide youth to establish healthy relationships, develop self-esteem, teach social skills, and encourage goal setting, which possibly leads to high academic achievement. Additionally, he urges the child welfare system to transition its focus from short-term to long-term, meaning that instead of only focusing on removing children from a poor home environment (violence, abuse, neglect, etc.), the welfare system should aim to prevent those youth from facing negative outcomes (homelessness). In his conclusion, Williams introduces the role of policymakers and legislators, which is to fund programs that focus on positive outcomes for the foster youth population. The system America has in place is not working well and the essence of Williams’ argument is that the child welfare system needs to focus on preventing these negative outcomes by mentoring those who are not adopted or taken into a good foster family and training foster children to become good citizens. Joseph J. Doyle, Jr. and Anna Aizer agree, by claiming that economic approaches are necessary to evaluate child welfare programs since it incorporates cost-benefit analyses as a natural discussion point. Elizabeth Steffel who survived childhood abuse and foster care brought up another option. She believes that states need to create more transitional living programs, which guides emancipated teens to find jobs, provides housing assistance, and teaches valuable life skills.
Past research and studies prove that America’s foster care system is lacking what is needed to create positive outcomes for foster youth. Emancipating out of foster care is the fate of many foster youth, but looking at the situation economically, adoption is the best option for foster kids and the public as it saves money.