Foster Care Affects You, Your Money & Your Wallet

In the United States caring for children from neglectful or abusive families, is a chronic concern.  The most recent legislation passed concerning this issue was the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. This act was created at a time in which studies had found that children, whom were in foster care for extended periods of time, and children which had emancipated out of the system, were at high risk for becoming involved in criminal activity. The Adoption and Safe Families Act was intended to solve this issue by correcting the components of the child welfare system that had resulted in children being placed in temporary homes for considerable lengths of time.  Research indicated that the effect of this policy would be the reduction of the detrimental societal impacts caused by these children during their adult lives.  This policy was and is of importance to all individuals, residing within the United States, because of the financial consequences suffered by taxpayers when these children are improperly cared for.

Today, when tabulating the effects Adoption and Safe Families we see that it has been unable to alleviate the societal ills it was intended to affect.  The policy was effective in creating changes within the structure of the child welfare system but these changes have done nothing to improve the lives of the children in that population. As a result the United States taxpayers are paying for a broken system out of their own pockets.

From 1985, to the late 1990’s, the amount of children in out of home care, without permanent placement plans, increased by 74 percent. In response Congress created the Family Preservation and Family Support program through the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993. This program gave funding for family preservation and family reunification services3. It also provided funds for families whom adopted children from state care. Despite the efforts of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act the amount of children aging out of the system continued to increase.  

At this time research began to report that children in foster care, particularly those who aged out of the system, were becoming a detriment to society.  In 1991, studies found that 25 percent of former foster children were homeless, 40 percent were on public assistance, half were unemployed and 75 percent of individuals in correctional institutions in the state of Connecticut were former foster children.

Studies revealed that children removed from neglectful and abusive homes, whom had resided in long term out of home placements, used a vast amount of government funds and resources.  In response to these findings the federal government created¬ the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. The purpose of this act was to force states into the positive action of placing foster children in permanent homes within short spans of time.  States were given a fifteen month limit in which they were to either reunify the children with their parents or sever rights.  

In 2012, 399,546 children entered into foster care. Of the 399,546 children in foster care 241,254 were either reunified with their families or aged out of the system. Another 101,719 were in temporary placements awaiting adoption and only 52,039 were adopted. On average more than $9,000,000,000 federal and state dollars are spent on caring for foster children through the Social Security act each year. Even more money is spent for foster children on medical care, food stamps, cash welfare, and child care payments.

The Adoption Assistance Plan, a federal child welfare expenditure, matches 50 to 80 percent of state funds used to assist in adoption placements. Since 2008, the Adoption Assistance Plan is funded by $2,160,000,000 federal dollars per year. States are given monetary incentives to monitor the effectiveness of the acts implementation and improvement of their child placement rates. A state may apply for Child Welfare Waivers which allow them to use federal dollars, in innovative ways, to create systems for improving the child placement rates within that state.  Over the last decade six states have used child welfare waivers to create programs which are proactively preventative of foster placements by targeting at risk families. Four of these programs have been successful.

In 1995, children reunified with their families within one year of being placed in the foster system was 28 percent. Today 76 percent of children are reunified with their families within one year. In 1996, only 9.2 percent of children in foster care, whose parents rights had been terminated, were placed in adoptive homes. These children had, on average, been in the system for four years before adoption. In 2012, 13.1 percent of children in foster care were adopted and these children had been in the foster system for an average of two years.        

There is no consistent data reporting the percentage of children which aged out of foster care before the Adoption and Safe Families Act was passed in 1997. Though this data does not exist, or is not easily found, by 2004, studies began to show a rapid increase in the amount of children emancipating out of the foster system. In 2012, ten percent of children in foster care aged out of the system. That percentage represents 23,439 youth whom entered the world as legal adults with no families of their own. 841 of these emancipated youth had been in out of home placements for more than five years.

As of 2013, most states have been unable to create programs that fulfill the requirement of implementing programs which correct the behaviors within families that led to their children being placed in state care. Only four states have created programs which tackle parental substance abuse issues. Six states work to teach at risk families healthy habits before their children are removed from home. Though the majority of structural changes ordered by The Adoption and Safe Families act took detrimental societal symptoms, which these structural changes were intended to fix, have increased.

In 1991, studies found that 75 percent of individuals in correctional institutions in Connecticut were former foster children, today a third of former foster care children are in the criminal justice system which makes up 80 percent of our nation’s prison population. While 21 percent of former foster children became homeless in 1996, that number now totals 40 percent.  In 1996, close to half of former foster youth were unemployed and 40 percent were on public assistance. Today 47 percent of former foster youth are unemployed and 67 percent use public assistance. Studies have found that on average taxpayers spend more than $300,000 on public assistance and incarceration costs, over the lifetime of each individual that ages out of the foster care system.

After analyzing the successes and failures of the Adoption and Safe Families Act I, a former foster youth, propose that an amendment be made to the Adoption and Safe Families Act that will require the states to create transitional living programs which teach foster youth life and job skills. I emancipated out of the system during my junior year of high school and believe the only reason I was able to finish high school was because of the help I received from Green Bay, Wisconsin’s Family Services Transitional Living Program. Studies on the effects transitional living programs have on emancipated foster youth, compared to emancipated youth who do not go through a transitional program, show statistically significant differences between these populations. In the late 1990’s a Midwest study of former foster youth found that within eighteen months of emancipating out of the foster system 55 percent were in poverty, 25 percent were homeless, 45 percent dropped out of high school, 50 percent were unemployed and by age twenty-six and 50 percent were incarcerated.  

After these statistics were publicized states began creating transitional living programs which helped emancipated youth by providing them with housing assistance, as well as job and life skills programs. In 2012 Youth Villages published the results of a ten year longitudinal study of emancipated youth whom had participated in a transitional living program. The study found that more than two years after emancipating from foster care 83 percent were employed and had finished high school, only 23 percent had been involved in criminal activity, and 84 percent were not homeless or living in poverty. The results of this study show that if states were to provide assistance to emancipated foster youth there would be an enormous reduction in federal spending. With less former foster youth becoming dependent on social welfare programs, and less emancipated foster children being incarcerated, the federal and state budgets would become less encumbered.  

Though the Adoption and Safe Families Act did not affect the societal ills it hoped to impact, it did produce the transitional living program through its Child Welfare Waivers. This program, if added as an amendment to the Adoption and Safe Families Act, may finally end the probability of former foster youth becoming burdens on society throughout their adult lives.