How Foster Care is a Social & Political Issue

Recently I was pitching a producer of a well-known, highly regarded U.S. talk show about doing a story related to foster care. This producer is a terrific person with a big heart. I can tell she really wants to help elevate the foster care cause, but all show ideas and guests aren't entirely up to her. She has bosses, and she has to answer for ratings.

The producer said, "I'd love to do something, but it's sweeps week (it was at the time of our conversation), and given we're in the middle of the presidential campaign season, all of our shows are really focused on current political and social issues."

I responded by saying... you want a social and political issue... let me tell you about foster care! Given that I'm usually working with people familiar with the issue, I sometimes need to be reminded just HOW LITTLE the average American knows about foster care or the plight of children in care. I went on to pitch my little heart out trying to convince her about foster care. She was intrigued, and I could tell I was educating her on things she had never realized about the system. In the end, the producer asked me to do a round-up list describing just how foster care is a social and political issue.

Here I'm sharing the round-up (followed by sources for more detail) so that hopefully more of you can pitch stories to media and use this information to drive a fuller-picture awareness of how intertwined foster care is with many social and political issues being discussed today. Please feel free to contact me with questions.

All information below was obtained on May 15, 2015

NATIONAL RECOGNITION Every year, May is National Foster Care Awareness Month and November is National Adoption Month (with much emphasis put on adopting out of foster care) in the United States. November 19 is the official “National Adoption Day” for 2016.

STATS ABOUT FOSTER YOUTH • In 2014, 415,000 children were in foster care. (This more than four times the capacity of Rose Bowl Stadium) • Average age of a child entering care is 7.4 years • In 2014, more than half of children entering U.S. foster care were young people of color. • On average, children remain in state care for nearly two years and seven percent of children in foster care have languished there for five or more years. • While most children in foster care live in family settings, a substantial minority — 14 percent — live in institutions or group homes. • More than 100,000 foster children are waiting to be adopted at this very moment Source: U.S. Children's Bureau, AFCARS Report 2014 & Trends Report

STATS ABOUT “AGED-OUT” FOSTER YOUTH (“aged-out” = those who leave care at age 18 or 21 [depending on the state] without having been adopted)

Information reprinted from Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, accessed April 10, 2016:

Each year, 26,000 transition without the typical growing-up experiences that teach self-sufficiency skills, and without the family supports and community networks that help them make successful transitions to adulthood. These young people experience very poor outcomes at a much higher rate than the general population:

• More than one in five will become homeless after age 18 • Only 58 percent will graduate high school by age 19 (compared to 87 percent of all 19 year olds) • 71 percent of young women are pregnant by 21, facing higher rates of unemployment, criminal conviction, public assistance, and involvement in the child welfare system • At the age of 24, only half are employed • Fewer than 3 percent will earn a college degree by age 25 (compared to 28 percent of all 25 year olds) • One in four will be involved in the justice system within two years of leaving the foster care system • COST: “(From 2003-2013) over 300,000 youth have left foster care without the support needed to successfully transition from adolescence to adulthood. We estimate the cost of their less-than-average outcomes in academic achievement, too early pregnancy and involvement in the criminal justice system at $226 billion or just under a quarter of a trillion dollars.” -- ISSUE BRIEF: COST AVOIDANCE, The Business Case for Investing In Youth Aging Out of Foster Care, Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative


  • Tied to High Incarceration Levels and Costs

  • High levels of homelessness

  • Higher pregnancy rates

  • Higher unemployment rates and the need for social welfare programs

  • Higher rates of Sex Trafficking Victimization -- Foster kids are at a much higher risk of being exploited by sex traffickers. For example, half of sexually trafficked minors in California come from the foster care system. By comparison, fewer than 1% of all children in California are foster children.

  • Being over-prescribed or unnecessarily prescribed psychotropic medications -- An investigation by (San Jose Mercury News) has found that drug makers, anxious to expand the market for some of their most profitable products, spent more than $14 million from 2010 to 2013 to woo the California doctors who treat this captive and fragile audience of patients at taxpayers’ expense.

  • Part of the Opioid/heroin addiction epidemic – more children entering the system because more people (their parents) are addicted. Some states have been hiring more social workers and judges to deal with the problem

FOSTER CARE AS A POLITICAL ISSUE (Federal & State Legislation, Class-Action Lawsuits) o Current Federal Foster Care Legislation 2015 - 2017 114th Congress. 57 bills found with "foster care" in the title or text

o 49 state bills related to extending foster care beyond age 18 since 2009 o Current State-Level Pending Foster Care Legislation

Illinois HB 3761: Provides that a youth who exited foster care after reaching 18 years of age but before reaching 21 years of age may reenter foster care and receive extended foster care services. New York SB 6815: similar to IL HB 3761 above Ohio HB 423: Extends the age for which a person is eligible for federal payments for foster care under Title IV-E to age twenty-one.

o Class Action Lawsuits Against States for Failing Child Welfare Systems Children’s Rights is an NYC-based national advocacy organization that uses the law to protect thousands of abused and neglected kids when child welfare systems fail to do so. Currently Children’s Rights has class action lawsuits against the following states for failing child welfare systems: o Arizona o Rhode Island o South Carolina o Texas

Other state lawsuits: o Mississippi is now trying to avoid becoming the first state to have its child welfare system put in receivership and an outside group hired to run it. o A class-action against the state of Hawai‘i for violating federal law by failing to pay foster parents enough to adequately care for the foster children in their homes

In the past, Children’s Rights has reached settlements with the following states: Connecticut

District of Columbia Georgia

Michigan Missouri

Mississippi New Jersey

Oklahoma Tennessee


OTHER NATIONAL ISSUE: LACK OF GOOD FOSTER PARENTS • According to the Los Angeles Times, "Demand for foster beds exceeds supply by more than 30% nationally. Forty percent of parents withdraw during their first year, and an additional 20% say they want out, national studies show. Those families that remain are often stuck in deep poverty themselves." Inside the foster care system: A bleak last stop for lost youths, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 28, 2015



OVERALL STATS • In 2012, 397,000 children were in foster care, a 30 percent decline from the 1999 peak of 567,000, and a number lower than any seen in any of the past 25 years. In 2014, the number had increased to 415,000 – Source; Child Trends Data Bank:

• Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative:

• ISSUE BRIEF: COST AVOIDANCE, The Business Case for Investing In Youth Aging Out of Foster Care, Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, May 2013,

TIE TO HOMELESSNESS “Broken foster care system may be contributing to homelessness crisis,” San Francisco Examiner, March 27, 2016

SEX TRAFFICKING o “Los Angeles Trying New Tactics to Help Children, Many in Foster Care, Who Are Sexually Trafficked,”, May 3, 2016: Includes reports of former foster youth who lived in group homes being released to pimps at night and returned for a fee or being used in pornographic films

o “Sex-trafficking sting highlights vulnerability of foster children,” Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2013,

OVERPRESCRIPTION OF PSYCHOTROPIC DRUGS o “Drugging our kids: RX alliance rewards doctors as drug companies get richer,” LA Daily News, Nov. 22, 2014,

o "Drugging our Kids," San Jose Mercury News, 2014

TIE TO INCREASES IN OPIOID ADDICTION/HEROIN USE o “Parents’ Drug Abuse Strains Child-Welfare Agencies, Growing epidemic puts more children into foster care,” Wall Street Journal, January 12, 2016



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