Approximately 700,00 children are abused each year in the United States. (National Children’s Alliance) Fortunately, there are organizations that have been put in place to help intervene in the event that parents are reported for potential maltreatment of their children. With good intentions, the foster care system was put in place to protect these children, and save as many children as they can, however it can prolong their trauma and prevent them from moving on and living like regular kids; further inhibiting their inclusion in society.
There can be many situations in which it is necessary for a child to be placed in foster care, all falling under the umbrella of abuse and/or neglect. These most often include physical and sexual abuse, overall neglect (usually regarding malnutrition and living conditions), medical neglect, incarceration of guardians, abandonment, parental addiction or incarceration, or even truancy (frequent and unnecessary absence from school). Today, in most of these cases, children are removed from their homes and moved into the foster care system, where they can be readjusted to live with a family who will properly care for these children. (Brookings) These alternative living conditions can be short term, until a parent can sort out their affairs and learn about more effective parenting skills. In other cases, this arrangement must be adapted for long term situations, in which the child can live with another more prepared family member, can live in a group home, can be adopted, or even soon become old enough to live independently and attempt to support themselves.
This system, however, has many flaws. The child welfare agencies that try to offer “better” care for the kids often fail. This is usually due to the fact that they are poorly funded, and although with good intentions, end up trying to care for more children than they can handle, causing severe overcrowding of these foster homes. This also prevents the child’s needs and wishes from being heard and fulfilled, being placed in homes that can be just as harmful as their original ones. It can also be extremely difficult to find a family that is willing to accept responsibility and care for these children. Few couples selflessly volunteer to care for another parent’s child, especially difficult or defiant ones. Of the couples who wish to adopt, (most often due to infertility) few of them are successful as the process to match a parent with a child is grueling; requiring a steady and considerable income, strong health, a permanent living space that will be evaluated to determine if it is safe for the child, marital requirements (depending on the state or country) and even educational requirements. Although these requirements are put in place to protect both the families and the children, this is another factor that prevents children from being placed in proper care.
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In addition, parents looking to adopt often focus on the youngest of the children, leaving the older children to wallow in these group homes. The remaining of the kids either bounce in and out, between various homes, never finding a permanent solution, or are stuck there until they turn eighteen and are released into the world to figure life out for themselves; even when they lack the crucial support they need during those critical years. When it comes to the younger children, this separation and constant moving can cause severe harm to a child in development. This trauma at a young age causes severe problems later in their life such as aggression, anxiety, trust issues, antisocial behaviour, mood swings and insomnia. For babies, this neglect, separation as well as frequent moving can cause issues with their cognition, motor skills, speech and emotional behaviour. These abandoned children often grow up with a feeling of not being wanted, cast out or useless and irrelevant.
As an alternative to this system, many have been advocating for the return of orphanages. These people argue that orphanages are far better for children, as it offers them a longer term, more consistent placement, where the children can interact together and support each other in a stable environment. Others prefer the newly dubbed “cottage system”, one similar to orphanages but instead of one large establishment, one that is divided into smaller homes or “cottages” where caretakers can provide closer more personal attention than a traditional orphanage. This solution combines the stability of an orphanage with the personal attention of a foster home, however it also costs far more than both systems.
Before completely rejecting the idea of maintaining our current foster care system, we must also celebrate the successes of the foster care system. Of the children placed in foster care, approximately 30% of them will be adopted. 10% of these kids will continue with their education and graduate from university. (Adoption Network) This totals to an extra ten to twenty thousand children receiving their university diploma that otherwise would never have had the chance to do so.
Despite all of the foster care system’s flaws, it can be very beneficial for a select few of these children. The lucky children will be able to learn how to survive independently, but more importantly how to adapt their lives to their circumstances. Even though this system is not perfect, these child welfare programs are the only ones that even offer a chance at survival for these children. It would of course be a fantasy to claim that these programs could save every child at risk, but the reality is that they offer a chance for these children to separate themselves from a harmful lifestyle and instead attempt to lead them down a more suitable path. Although the foster care system without a doubt needs to be adapted to solve its problems, if the program can even save just a fraction of the children, it is well worth all the resources and efforts poured into them to save them from their alternative.
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- “Why So Many Families Who Want To Adopt Can’t.” The Federalist, 18 Aug. 2016, www.thefederalist.com/2016/08/18/why-so-many-families-who-want-to-adopt-cant/.