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The Well-Being of Children in Foster Care


Children and young adults are a representation of the future generation. Therefore, it is paramount for individuals, parents, guardians, the government and the society as a whole to create an ideal environment for their social, emotional, and physical development. Foster care describes the process whereby social agencies, within the due boundaries of the law, take children from their homes for an indefinite period and dispose them as they see fit. When children are mistreated or neglected by their biological parents, or when their parents cannot, for any particular reason, care for their children, the government usually intervenes to ensure the children receive adequate care. Foster care is the most common intervention. However, children placed in foster care for their protection often experience various conditions that may threaten their physical, mental, intellectual or emotional development. Primarily, while there is no dispute on the need and importance of foster care, many do not endorse it as a solution to the problems for which it was invoked in the first place.

Foster care entails the care for children outside the home and encompasses substitutes for parental responsibility. Children and adolescents might be placed with their relatives or strangers or a group home or an institution. Whatever the form of the foster care, it is often an upheaval in the life of a child who is forced to adjust to a different environment with a different family, school, location, and peers in addition to culture (Szilagyi, Rosen and Rubin 3). The entirety of foster care implies that important decision pertaining a child’s well-being is in the hands of a stranger including the court system, social welfare agencies, substitutes parents or any other individual or organization involved in the placement and care of the child in foster care. Essentially, foster care is a temporary expedient since it is universally agreed that it is in the best interests of children if they reside with their parents (Turney and Wildeman 1). However, in most cases, this temporary solution often becomes a permanent state where the foster children only escape upon reaching adulthood since the system is designed to take care of children until they reach eighteen years.

Thousands of children in the USA are in the foster care system. On an annual basis, almost one percent of USA children spend time in foster care (Turney and Wildeman 1). However, focusing on children placed in care annually underestimates the number of children and young adults experiencing foster care. Estimates indicate roughly 6 percent of children in the USA are placed in foster care at least one between the time of birth and when they reach eighteen years old (Turney and Wildeman 1). These numbers reflect on the importance of an in-depth analysis on the effects of not having a permanent residence on the social and mental development of these children. Children in foster care experience several disadvantages including the maltreatment they endured in the hands of their parents and other risk factors related to their placement including but not limited to poverty, epigenetics, dangerous neighborhoods, and drug and alcohol abuse among others (Clemens, Helm and Myers 65). Perhaps the adverse consequences in the foster care system are the reason as to way children in foster care are characterized with higher rates of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder, hyperactivity disorder in addition to other behavioral problems compared to children living with their biological parents. Moreover, research indicates children placed in foster care are more likely to struggle in school and subsequently have difficulties in finding employment compared to their counterparts who live with their biological parents (Clemens, Helm and Myers 67).

The social, mental and emotional well-being of children placed in foster care is threatened by the conditions that lead to their placement along with their personal experiences once in the system. Statistics indicate that eighty percent of children are removed from their homes because their parents can no longer care for them (Williams-Mbengue 2). The failure might be due to various reasons including sudden calamity, such as physical or mental illness or imprisonment or in other cases drug, alcohol or cases of physical or emotional abuse including neglect. Fifteen percent of children are placed in the system because their parents can no longer cope for instance if the child is mentally disabled or suffers from a physical inability (Williams-Mbengue 2). Around five percent of the placement is due to environmental factors such as financial needs, inadequate housing or chronic unemployment although is a commonly cited factor in many cases of foster care placement. In most circumstances, the removal of a child from his home for whatever reasons is confusing and devastating for the child causing issues in social and mental development.

In most cases, once in the system, most children experience prolonged stays than initially anticipated. It is largely documented while foster care was designed as a short-term intervention; most children one in the system stay until there are adults (Bramlett and Radel 5). It is essential to mention the longer the child is in the system, the higher the chances of he or she being moved from one foster home to another. The movement from one home to another gives an impression of instability which further risks the emotional and social outcomes of children in foster care. The frequent moves imply that children suffer constant and on-going disruptions in their education, interpersonal relationships with friends, teachers, and classmates among others.

Thousands of children in the USA foster system struggle to reach the standard literacy and numeracy benchmarks and are often at a higher risk compared to their peers of being suspended or expelled and subsequently struggle long-term with social and economic disadvantages. Some of the factors that negatively impact educational outcomes for foster children include school disruption due to constant moving between foster homes, the trauma that separated the children from the biological parents and socio-economic risk factors in the new home among others (Clemens, Helm and Myers 68). Since the children are always bounced from home to home, there are regularly uprooted from their lives which adversely affect their schooling since they move schoolings and might be placed back a grade.

Moreover, the fact that children are separated from their parents for whatever reason affects their emotional and psychological well-being, both are important for positive academic outcomes. The factors contributing to low education achievements in children in foster care often coexist and exacerbate each other. For instance, poverty implies that many biological parents are incapable of adequately providing for their children who are placed in foster care, which disrupts their regular schedules (Szilagyi, Rosen and Rubin 3). It is necessary for the USA to invest in effective interventions to improve academic outcomes for children in foster care to avoid long-term and irreversible consequences such as substance abuse, criminal behaviors, homelessness, and lack of employment, which results to societal social and economic challenges. It is essential for society to acknowledge the importance of education for this particular population since good education is the most promising strategy for mitigating the adverse effects associated with foster care. Education is vital in successful youth development and adult self-sufficiency.

Children and adolescents placed in foster care often present various physical, mental health and psychological problems majority which are rooted in childhood adversity and trauma in addition to the element of maltreatment in foster care. As mentioned, the life of children in foster care is often characterized by transience and uncertainty. The uncertainty implies there are many barriers to providing high-quality health care services to these children. Research on early brain development asserts that early childhood is a critical period during which foundations for attachment, trust, self-esteem and impulse control among other vital skills are development (Szilagyi, Rosen and Rubin 4). Therefore, early childhood trauma and including aspects of negligence negatively affect the development of the brain subsequently leading to poor emotional regulation, impulsivity, and aggression among other emotional and psychological issues. Majority of the children and adolescents entering the foster system have experienced deprived and chaotic environments in their early years. Indeed, 80 percent of children entering the foster system report some level of maltreatment (Szilagyi, Rosen and Rubin 5).

Moreover, removal from their family leads to emotional trauma for the children which compounds the effects of the multiple pre-placements associated with the foster care system. Many experiences in the foster care indicate crises including changes in school, loss of interpersonal relationships and separation from siblings among others. Cumulatively, the experiences of many foster children before and during their years adversely affect their mental and psychological development which materializes in several behavioral and anti-social problems. These issues often affect the adult life of many foster children characterized by unemployment, incarceration and drug abuse.

Throughout the paper, it is evident one of the core issues that exacerbate the adverse effects of foster care is the lack of a stable home since the majority of children in foster care are bounced from one home to another. One solution to this problem is the validity of the adoption. Each year, there are more than 100,000 children in foster care in the USA awaiting adoption (Bramlett and Radel 5). However, a mere 60,000 is usually adopted. Research indicates age is a significant consideration for potential parents (Bramlett and Radel 5). Many parents prefer to take younger children. Statistics show roughly sixty percent of all adoptions from foster care in the past half a decade have been children who were five years or younger. Primarily, many foster parents considering adoption prefer younger children to apply their parental skills and enjoy the entire parenthood journey.

Undeniably, when potential parents think of adoption, they rarely consider teenagers since many hold the perception that teenagers are sullen and challenging, and as such more troubled that they are worth. However, it is essential to acknowledge that teenagers like younger children can benefit from the emotional and financial stability that comes with a permanent home. Research indicates on an annual basis more than 27,000 of the 400,000 children in the US foster care enter adulthood without the support of a stable family (Punnett and Rosenberg). The odds are stacked against these youth who often proceed to struggle with unemployment, substance abuse, incarceration, homelessness, and impoverishment. To end the vicious cycle of poverty, drug abuse and imprisonment, which often results in off springs of foster children being placed in the same system as their parents, it is essential for parents considering adoption to recognize a permanent and supportive family is beneficial to a teenager as it is to a child below five years of age.


In the past century, the foster care system in the USA has evolved to be a means of providing care and protection to children and young adults whose parents for one reason or another cannot adequately provide for them. Primarily, the goal of foster care is to promote the well-being of children and young adults by catering for their health, safety, and stability. Placement in foster homes affects children uniquely. Although the effects are mostly subjective, there are some standard parameters such as the adverse effects on educational outcomes and deterioration in mental and physical health. The core reason for these adverse effects is the lack of a stable home. While adoption provides for a viable solution, adoption rates from the foster system are generally low, and many parents prefer to adopt younger children leaving many adolescents without the love and support of the permanent home. It is necessary for parents, foster parents, social work agencies, the government and the society at large to work tirelessly to improve the foster care system in efforts of proving an ideal environment for children the development and growth of children and adolescents.

Works Cited

Bramlett, Matthew D and Laura F Radel. “Factors Associated with Adoption and Adoption Intentions of Non-parental Caregivers.” Adoption Q, vol. 20, no.1, 2017, pp. 5-24.

Clemens, Elysia, et al. “The Voices of Youth Formerly in Foster Care: Perspectives on Education Attainment Gaps.” Children and Youth Service Review vol. 79, 2017, pp. 65-77.

Punnett, Susan, and Erica Rosenberg. “For Teens in Foster Care, adoption is a Lifeline.” 3 January 2014. The Washington Post. 21 April 2019 <>.

Szilagyi, Moira A, et al. “Health Care Issues for Children and Adolescents in Foster Care and Kinship Care.” Pediatrics vol. 136, no.4, 2015, pp. 1-9.

Turney, Kristin and Christopher Wildeman. “Mental and Physical Health of Children in foster care.” Pediatrics vol. 138, no.5, 2016, pp. 1-6.

Williams-Mbengue, Nina. “The Social and Emotional Well-being of Children in Foster Care.” National Conference of State Legislatures, 2015, pp. 1-13.


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