NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Foster Care System Still Needs Reform

January 29, 2004

The basic health and educational needs of about a half-million U.S. children in foster care often are not met, says a new report, the most thorough ever done on how foster kids fare.

According to Sandra Bass of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, who reviewed research and questioned state agencies state foster care systems have failed to meet federal standards. For example, child welfare groups say caseworkers should oversee no more than 18 foster kids to ensure careful monitoring, but in some systems, workers have caseloads of 100 or more.

The foster care system is the social safety net for children who aren't adopted:

  • About 300,000 children enter the foster care system every year and stay an average nearly three years in foster care.
  • Infants and toddlers are the fastest-growing group and more than half of these very young children have serious health problems.
  • Kids in foster care for many years get less education than average, and as adults they're more likely to be unemployed and to serve time in jail, studies show.
  • However, there has been an 80 percent increase in adoptions since a 1997 federal law offered states bonuses for placing more foster kids in permanent homes.

About half of foster care expenses are covered by federal funds, but they come with rigid guidelines for use. A waivers program that expired in 2002 allowed a few states to institute innovative programs; for example, Delaware used money to treat birth parents with substance-abuse problems, and Illinois subsidized relatives to care for foster kids.

Source: Marilyn Elias, "Study suggests ways to bring foster kids in from the cold Relaxing federal fund guidelines could boost innovative programs," USA Today, January 29, 2004.


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