Children In Foster Care - Part I

The median age of a child in foster care is 10.1 years. The median age for a child entering foster care is 8.5 years. There are 568,00 children in foster care. There have been many studies done aimed at better understanding who are the children in the foster care system in America. The statistics are staggering. These children are in foster care due to abuse and neglect sustained at home. They are newborns, teenagers, Hispanics and Whites. These children can come from wealthy homes or impoverished families. Some stay in the system for twenty-four hours, and some of these children don’t leave the system until they reach the age of majority. And while there are almost 600,000 faces of foster children in America, all of these children share one similar question – Why me?

It is only in recent history that our country has even recognized child abuse and neglect as a major social problem. Hopper, Jim Child Abuse: Statistics, Research and Resources. The case of Mary Ellen, which took place is 1874, has been regarded as the beginning of the public concern for the plight of abused and neglected children. Florida Guardian ad Litem Training Manual. Mary Ellen was an illegitimate child whose parents both died. The New York Commission of Charities and Correction placed her into the care of a Mr. And Mrs. Connely. In their home, she was beaten daily, locked in a room, and was denied ad food, bedding or clothing. A neighbor, hearing the child’s screams reported the abuse, however no one would intervene. The police claimed no law was being broken. The agencies refused to intervene because they did not have legal custody of the child. The founder of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals became aware of Mary Ellen’s tragic life, and persuaded a judge to hear the case. After the child was removed, the public began to lobby for abused children, and the “Sociey for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children” was formed.

Today, the process of removing a child from an abusive home begins with a report by an individual familiar with the situation the child is facing. Over half of these reports are submitted by professionals (54.7%), while nonprofessionals, including family and community members, submit the remaining 45.3%. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Child Maltreatment 1999. At that point, an investigation begins. These referrals are sent to the attention of the child protective services, who respond on average (nationally) in 63.8 hours. Many of these investigations lead to findings that the child abuse or neglect report was not substantiated. However, approximately 29.2% of these reports find that these children indeed are victims of a form of child maltreatment.

Children end up in foster care for various reasons, as is indicated by statistics collected from the Florida Abuse Hotline. There are 97 descriptions that abuse and neglect can fall under in the state of Florida, with no clear majority as to the type of abuse sustained by children in hotline calls. 10.59% of children are placed into foster care after family violence threatens the child. Child Abuse Statistical Table (State of Florida 2000). In 10.2% of case a parent, while present, is providing inadequate supervision. Hazardous conditions make up 7.26% of alleged maltreatment cases. Beating, bruise, welts, and other physical injuries make up approximately 20% of hotline calls. The children entering the foster care system cannot be classified by sex, race or age. Approximately 45% of the children entering foster care during the six month period between 10/1/97 though 3/31/98 were white, 34% these children were black, and 13% were Hispanic. National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect, Foster Care National Statistics. 52% of these children were male. Once the investigation is complete and the investigator believes there is credible evidence of abuse, these children are taken out of the home and place in foster homes. During the same six month period, 48% of these children were placed in family foster homes, 26% were placed in relative foster homes, and 17% were placed in group homes or institutions. Only 3% of these children were placed into homes with families intending to adopt the child.

The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-89), signed into law by Pesident Clinton, clarifies that “the health and safety of children served by child welfare agencies must be their paramount concern.” The aim of these agencies must be to move children in foster care into permanent homes as quickly as possible. The act includes provisions offering states financial incentives for increasing the number of adoptions and new requirements for states to petition for the termination of parental rights.

Each case is given a “case plan” which states the goals of the parties involved. In September of 1999, 42% of these case plans included the goal of reuniting the child with his or her previous family, 8% had goals of granting guardianship or custody to a relative, 5% had goals of emancipation, 7% had goals of keeping the child in long term foster care, and 19% of these cases had no long term permanency goal established. Foster Care National Statistics.
Federal law mandates that children be placed in the “least restrictive setting possible.” 20 Fordham Urb. L.J. 343 at 350. Often, this means placing children with relatives. The experience of children placed with relatives is far different than that of children placed in non-relative foster families. See 112 Harv. L. Rev 1058 (1999). For a child to be place with a relative, a home study is often conducted within 24 hours followed by an assessment of the placement in 60 to 90 days. 20 Fordham Urb. L.J. 343, 353 (1993). This is done to prevent children from being forced to relocate after the placement is completed. Additionally, a relative caregiver’s home is not subject to the stringent size requirements commonly seen with non-relative placement. Relatives receive less financial incentives from the state to adopt, presumably because of the state’s assumption that relatives feel a moral obligation to care for the children. 112 Harv. L. Rev at 1058. Children in relative foster families tend to remain as foster children longer, perhaps because the family does not find it necessary to formally adopt children already related to them by blood. Additionally, families may not want to offend the biological parents, who often are their sons, daughters and siblings.


Part II of this article will examine more ideals with regards to children and what types of care will best provide for their futures. You can read part II by clicking the link below or on the upper right.



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