Barber and Delfabbro report that research has determined that children with physical and mental disabilities fare better in institutional settings, where the continuity in care-to-need structure is in place and the consistency in structured routine seems to better serve the individual (p. 7).
Thus, best practice in foster care should begin with a careful assessment of each child's suitability for placement. Where the child suffers from serious emotional or behavioural problems, regular foster care services are unlikely to be sufficient. Such children are likely to need either supervised group care or one of the forms of intensive, therapeutic foster care described in the literature (see Hudson, Natter and Galaway 1994, for a review) (Barber and Delfabbro, 2003, pp. 7-8)."
Adam Pertman (2000) says that America has become an "adoption nation," and that this has been a good thing for children who would otherwise be long-term placements in less desirable foster-care settings (p. 5).
It's not just that adoption suddenly seems to be appearing everywhere at once, as if revealed by a cosmic sleight-of-hand. Its public image is also exponentially better than it has ever been. The new climate allows birth parents like the comedian Roseanne, the singers Joni Mitchell and David Crosby, along with thousands of men and women unprotected by famous names, to finally ease their torment by disclosing their secrets and meeting their children. It leads celebrities like Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, and Rosie O'Donnell to proudly announce the arrival of their adopted children, further raising the profile of the process and accelerating public understanding that it's another normal way of forming a family. And it allows adoptees to learn that they aren't "different" in any negative sense, though they've been treated that way in the past; rather, they're part of a big, successful community whose members range from baseball legend Jim Palmer to former President Gerald Ford to Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs (p. 5)."
This, however, is where the bright side of the foster-care picture begins to darken. The numbers of children who become eligible to be adopted by caring and loving families are the exception, and not the rule of the foster care system. The goal of foster care is provide a temporary setting for children whose lives have been disrupted by family circumstances beyond their control, and the hope is that by way of the family's own, or court supervised guidance, the child's family will be able to take the child back into the birth parents' home again.
Geenen and Powers report that children in foster care do not do as well in school as do children living in their birth parents' homes.
The educational performance of foster care youths in general has been substantially investigated, and research indicates that this group of students is struggling in school. For example, Joiner (2001) found that foster youths have a high rate of absenteeism; Burley and Halpern (2001) demonstrated that foster youths score 15% to 20% below their peers on statewide achievement tests. Blome (1997) found that foster youths dropped out of school at twice the rate of youths not in care, and in a Maine survey, 40% of foster youths had repeated at least one grade (Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service, 1999) (Geenen and Powers, 2006, p. 233)."
Moreover, Geenen and Powers report that children suffering mental and physical disabilities remain in home settings with volunteer foster parents instead of the recommended institutional settings that help their disability with continuity and structure in care (p. 233). This is because the number of institutional settings available to children in the foster-care programs who suffer from disabilities is limited, and, especially when states are looking at privatization along the lines of the managed care model, we can expect that these institutions, like hospitals, will suffer the corporate driven goals and balance sheets of the managed care organizations into whose trust the well being of these children is being placed to become even less available to them.
Each year, between 1,000 and 1,200 children will die from abuse or neglect in the United States. These numbers are estimated to be unchanged in national reporting data over the last decade. Inconsistent state reporting, uninvestigated suspicious child deaths, and deaths misidentified as accidental or SIDS are factors in this number being an estimate only (Brittain and Hunt, 2004, p. 343)."
While it is in the interest of the children and families to work towards temporary placement in foster-care, there are occasions when tough decisions must be made to permanently remove a child from a home. This decision, difficult as it may be, should be based on the evidence available to child protective services, and should prevent the child from further physical and mental harm that could result in the loss of life. However, the very circumstances that cause a child to become a ward of the state often is the very circumstances of abuse and neglect into which the states place children.
Children under 6 years old account for 85% of all child abuse deaths, and children aged 1 year and under account for 44% of all child abuse deaths, according to the 2000 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report (2002). Most are killed by a parent or caregiver; often both parents or caregivers are responsible; and both genders of victims are equally victimized. Despite the high-profile cases in recent years, the national data reports that only 12.5% of these families had received services in the 5 years prior to the deaths, and 2.1% of these deaths occurred in foster care (Brittain and Hunt, 2004, p. 343)."
It is not acceptable that children be removed from family settings where they are at risk, and put into foster settings that result in the loss of life. States must work harder to ensure the safety of children in foster care programs, and this means physical and mental abuses that do not result in death too. Child protective agencies in the individual states must be staffed to be able to deal with the volume of inspections, background investigations and regular in-person, on-site visits to the foster care settings. States receive billions of dollars in federal aid, and while the cost of programs is in fact expensive, a well managed system should be able to survive on the state and federal dollars devoted to those programs.
The child foster care system that arose out of the 19th century philanthropy and private organizations' concern for the safety and well being of the country's children began with good intentions. Unfortunately, the very programs that grew out of those good intentions became mired down in administrative weights that prevented them from developing in ways that would best serve all children, regardless of race or religion. The progress that was made well into the mid 20th century, is now in danger of sliding backwards, and once it begins that backward slide, it becomes difficult to say how far back it will slide.
The idea of privatized management of the foster care system is a frightening proposition, since it is presumed that the private enterprise managing the systems will be corporations and, therefore, profit driven. There are a multitude of unanswered questions: How do these private management entities propose to make sure that the best interest of the children they are being contracted to manage are being served? Can we expect these private entities to put the best interest of the child ahead of the interest of their corporate balance sheets? Who bears the liability for neglect and deliberate blindness when the best interest of the children are found not to be served?
Right now, we see that the public welfare systems that include the foster-care system are becoming the subject of lawmaker focus as they look for ways to cut government spending. The American people need to firmly and loudly assert themselves in this process and make a stand on behalf of the children of America. While we do not have a perfect system, it is a system that has potential with oversight and by demanding that the system work in the best interests of the children it was built to serve. There is no explanation for the death of a child in foster care, or for the death of a child whose neglect and abuse at the hands of its birth parents has been reported to CPS agencies.
There are good outcomes for children who are placed in foster care when those settings are thoroughly investigated and followed-up on by case managers. Furthermore, while it should always be the goal of the state to rehabilitate biological parents in a way that helps them through their social dysfunction that causes their children to become wards of the state; it should also be acknowledged that there are instances and families that will not be rehabilitated, and in those instances decisions should be made based on available evidence to allow…