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The Shortcomings Of The Foster Care System

Marina Peña |
August 11, 2015 | 2:35 p.m. PDT




Every child deserves a safe place to call home. Sadly, not every parent is capable of providing their child a stable home environment. Due to a number of reasons ranging from physical or sexual abuse to substance addiction and poverty, close to 400,000 children in the United States find themselves in the foster care system. 

If they are lucky and work hard to overcome the obstacles thrown their way, they end up like Bianca, Madison, Tiffany, and Paris Lucci, who have been in the system since the age of 11.  The quadruplets entered the foster care system one Christmas Eve after suffering from abuse and abandonment. For the next few years, the girls were in and out of foster homes and group homes. Nonetheless, in 2011, they were reunited in Rancho Palos Verdes, where they all graduated from high school back in June. 

With plans to continue their education, Madison, Tiffany and Paris Lucci will be headed to Long Beach City College. Meanwhile, Bianca Lucci will be headed to Humboldt State University in hopes of earning a degree in criminal justice. 

Unfortunately, in many ways, the story of the Lucci quadruplets is an anomaly. In Los Angeles County alone, less than half of foster-care youth graduate from high school and even fewer graduate from college. 

Additionally, conservative studies of the U.S. show that one in five children in foster care will become homeless after the age of 18, when they “age out” of the system. Less than three percent will earn a college degree, only half will be employed at 24. Among young women, 71 percent will be pregnant by 21. One in four children will have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, at twice the rate of war veterans. 

It is safe to say that the foster care system is failing many of our children. Intentionally designed to serve as a temporary haven for those who are abused and neglected, foster care is instead leading them to situations fraught with further uncertainty. 

A 2004 study of foster homes in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Oregon revealed that the average foster-care provider’s length of service was less than eight months. Moreover, a 2010 Casey Family study also found that 65 percent of all foster children have attended seven or more schools. 

The fact that many foster children have had to endure this level of instability is astonishing and frankly unacceptable. Children are not suitcases that we can drag around from place to place and expect them to turn out just fine. No. Not in the slightest bit. They are human beings. And just like any other person, they require a reliable and hospitable place to call home.

Not only that, they also need safety in their homes, free from mental or physical abuse. However, statistics show that the number of children abused while in foster care is far too great. A 2010 study of adults in Washington and Oregon who have been emancipated from the foster-care system revealed that a third of former foster children reported being abused by an adult in their foster homes.

After taking a closer look at these statistics, it’s no wonder why roughly 22 percent of the child population decides to flee the system. If they’re bound to face similar circumstances in foster care as they did in the homes they came from, then why not just run away?

No matter what the case may be, escaping the system should not be a realistic solution for foster children. To confront the shortcomings of the foster care system, however, we must first discuss the structural issues that lead them to enter it in the first place. In the words of author and foster care expert, Cris Beam, the children in the system are “not just a meter of how child welfare is failing or succeeding, they’re a meter of how we are failing or succeeding as a society.”

Some children are rescued by child welfare workers from their homes of origin, where they are being beaten or sexually violated. Yet the reality is that most children enter the foster care system due to poverty, not abuse. 

An estimated 16 million children in the U.S. were living below the poverty line in 2012. With that said, one way to improve the state of the foster care system is to make it less indispensable in our society. 

Providing larger subsidies to parents who are too impoverished to take care of their children would be a great start. After all, children who are placed in foster care are proven to face lifelong challenges more so than those that remain with their own families. 

Nonetheless, we cannot forget about the thousands of children who already find themselves in foster care. Instead of paying millions to troubled foster care agencies, elected officials with decision-making powers and discretion over taxpayer dollars should find innovative ways to provide foster children with more secure, stable and loving homes. 

But first, the problems concerning the nation’s foster care system must enter our everyday conversations. The media does an impressive job at featuring exceptional cases like that of the Lucci quadruplets beating the odds or dreadful ones about parents abandoning their children. Yet an ongoing conversation about foster care remains absent.

If change is to be expected, more people will need to become informed about the issues troubling the system. Only then can we begin to improve the lives of the most vulnerable - children. 


Reach Columnist Marina Peña here, or follow her on Twitter.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

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