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The foster care system does a lot of good for a lot of children, but with so many issues holding it back, it’ll never reach its full potential. It’s time for individuals, families, and government agencies to work together to propose and execute viable solutions.

The State of the Foster Care System
Foster care is designed to be a temporary living situation for children whose parents are unwilling, unable, or unfit to care for their needs. Children are typically entered into the system when it comes to the attention of a child welfare agent that an underlying issue makes it necessary to remove a child from the home. Though foster care is meant to be temporary, the length of time children spend in care can vary rather dramatically.

Contrary to popular belief, adoption is not the plan for every child in foster care. In fact, the primary goal is reunification with birth parents – though this depends on a number of factors. For 58 percent of children, reunification is the plan. But for 26 percent of cases, parental rights end up being terminated and the goal is to place the child in an adoptive home.

According to a report from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, here are some of the latest trends in foster care:

The number of children in foster care continues to increase year over year. In fact, it’s risen every year since 2012 and is inching closer and closer to the half-million mark.

In 2016, 92,107 children were removed from their biological home due to parental drug abuse – that’s a 7 percent increase over the previous year. This is a direct result of the growing opioid epidemic.

In 2016, nearly 118,000 children were stuck in foster care waiting for an adoptive family.

Each year, between 30 and 60 percent of foster parents drop out of the system. This high turnover creates big challenges in terms of finding new parents to account for the vacancies left behind.

There are thousands of foster care agents, policymakers, foster parents, and supportive partners who are dedicated to making the system better, yet there’s still so much to be done. Until more people get behind this issue, the system – as a whole – will remain fractured.

Pressing Issues, Proactive Solutions
The good news is that there’s a big spotlight on the foster care system. With more people of power, influence, and resources coming to the forefront, real change can occur. Here are some of the issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible:

Abuse and Neglect
Unfortunately, abuse and neglect – the very things many children are supposed to be protected from in the system – are still present in some pockets of foster care. We need to stop turning a blind eye to these situations and pursue them with intensity.

Children and their legal guardians can not only bring accusations against abusers, but they can actually bring lawsuits against the negligent agency for abusive conduct. The more these cases are brought, the greater burden agencies will feel to invest in additional screening and oversight.

Group Homes
Group homes aren’t ideal. They typically house between 20 and 40 kids with just a few adults to care for them. Not only does group placement have less supervision and personal attention, but it can cost 7- to 10-times more than placing a child with a family. And while it’s best if kids are only in these situations for three to six months, many stay for a year or more at a time.

The only viable way to reduce the number of children in group homes is to train up more foster parents. In fact, many of the system’s problems come down to a shortage of reliable and consistent foster parents. Greater awareness is one step in filling this void, though it’s not clear what other permanent solutions can be implemented to achieve the desired results.

Aging Out
Many individuals age out of the foster care system – which means they’re never adopted and simply leave the system at 18. The results can be catastrophic.

Data shows that one in five people aging out of the system will become homeless, while one in four will be involved in the criminal justice system within two years of leaving foster care. An estimated 40 percent will never complete high school.

While reunification with birth parents is always the first goal, a greater emphasis on adoption for those who aren’t reunited with parents could bring these numbers down and promote a healthier society.

Fixing a Weary System
This article isn’t meant to be a knock against the hard-working professionals within the foster care system, or the volunteers that sacrificially give of their time, energy, and financial resources to provide for what is one of the most vulnerable groups in society. It is, however, intended to shine a spotlight on some of the areas where improvement is possible.

The onus doesn’t fall on any one group of people – it’s on all of us. As members of society, we have a certain responsibility to care for those who are poor, needy, and less fortunate. In light of this, we should desire to have a foster care system that serves the best interests of our children at every step of the way.

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