The U.S. Foster System: Is It Broken?


Marissa Lopez, Author

The foster system is a system designed to care for and protect vulnerable children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect, or other family issues.  According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a government website, there are over 391,000 kids in the foster care system. Unfortunately, many people believe this system is broken in many ways. 

Social workers often lack the resources and training necessary to provide the best care for the children in the foster system. Social workers are expected to visit foster homes regularly to ensure the safety and well-being of the children in their care. However, social workers have been known to miss or overlook signs of abuse and neglect in foster homes. According to Foster America, “1 in 8 American children is abused or neglected by age 18.” 

The foster system often fails because there is  lack of communication between different stakeholders in the system. Foster parents, social workers, and other professionals in the system often lack clear expectations and communication protocols. This lack of communication can lead to miscommunication and confusion, making it difficult for the system to work as intended. In an article about New Mexico’s child protection services, on the website of the organization Youth Today, Karen Coates writes, “The state failed to provide complete, consistent data on several important metrics, including how children entered and exited the system, and the number of staff needed to meet caseload standards.”

Foster children often lack a sense of stability and security. Foster children are often moved from one home to another, or even between states, making it difficult for them to establish a sense of belonging or identity. Lenette Azzi-Lessing, associate professor of social work at Wheelock College, writes on the website The Conversation,Disruptions make it difficult for children to form the kind of stable attachments that undergird healthy social and emotional development.”

Increasing funding for foster care programs can help provide better support services for children and caregivers. A report by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that “inadequate funding is one of the main reasons why many states struggle to provide adequate services for children in foster care.” By providing more funding, children would receive better medical care, education, and mental health services.

Improving training and support for caregivers can also help better the quality of care provided to children in foster homes. According to a study published in Journal of Child and Family Studies, “Caregivers often lack sufficient knowledge about child development and trauma-informed care practices.” The authors also state, “Providing training programs for caregivers would enable them to offer better emotional support and stability to children in their care.”

Fixing the foster care system requires addressing issues related to funding, caregiver training and support, family preservation, and data-driven policymaking. These solutions will require a lot of work among policymakers at all levels of government as well as community-based organizations working on behalf of vulnerable children and families.