Gwenyth Witkowski

Professor Ramos


The Children We See, But Don’t See In the Foster Care System

The foster care system as it exists today, is inadequate for meeting the needs of the children it is intending to serve. In theory, foster care sounds like the next best option if parents are incapable of taking care of their children, whether it be due to mental illness, drug abuse, physical abuse, or even poverty. This, however, is unfortunately not always the case. More often than not, children who are removed from their homes are placed in foster care, or group homes. Both can be equally as damaging when the appropriate assistance is not received. The incredible importance of understanding the problems associated with the foster care system cannot be underestimated.  As a society, we must find solutions to these problems so that children who have already been through some awful experiences can be cared for appropriately, and not be further harmed by the very system that is supposed to help them. This is important not only for the children, but it is a reflection of the kind of society we have created. Do we value all of our members, or just the ones who can vote or pay money?

Research indicates that children who have spent time in the foster care system have higher levels of problems such as low educational attainment, physical abuse, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, involvement in the juvenile justice system, running away, and homelessness. While these are social problems that affect other people who have not been in the foster care system, the rates for foster children are higher. Is there something about the system itself that is creating these problems, or does it have to do with early childhood trauma from abusive or neglecting parents, or is it from the trauma of being separated from parents that they love?

The youth who are placed in foster care are significantly more vulnerable than those placed in group homes due to the fact that their foster parents are not supervised on a daily basis by others. And in almost every case involving the maltreatment of children in the foster care system, the foster parents were at fault (Morton, 207). While maltreatment is not always going to be at the hands of non-relative foster parents, it is more likely. When a foster youth is abused by their caregiver, typically one of the biggest signs to their case worker that there’s a problem, is their grades. This, however isn’t always enough to warrant a different placement. In another small study, 11 participants discussed their abuse while in the foster care system, and how difficult it was for them to receive help. You may ask “why don’t they just call the police? How about taking photos of any injuries or contacting their social worker?” These apparently obvious solutions do not always work, because all of them were in fact attempted by a few children in this study, yet they were sent back to their abusive placement. In this study, a girl named Tanya was being sexually abused in her placement. Yet despite being abused, she did her best to maintain her grades, giving her social worker no reason to question the safety of her environment. After being placed in multiple homes, enduring abuse in all of them, Tanya was severely traumatized. She was abused to the point where she didn’t begin speaking until she was six, developing her own form of sign language, enabling her to communicate with her sister and foster parents (Morton, 217).  Another girl named Emily, who was actually being physically abused by a family member, wasn’t removed for a year and a half, even after documenting her abuse with photos, as well as attempting to call law enforcement. It wasn’t until she walked around with a fractured cheekbone that she was taken away (Morton, 218). Roberto, Dianna, Jennifer, Emily, Tanya, Byron: these were just some of the participants in the study who shared their abuse. Not only are these children affected physically, but they typically won’t perform well in class, and they become angry, as well as distrusting and more likely to run away.

While it seems understandable that a child who is being abused will leave their placement, why leave and be on their own? And what happens when they leave? There is a multitude of reasons that lead to foster youth leaving their placement. Among those are abuse, neglect, abandonment, involvement in the juvenile justice system, and painful family conflict (Crossland, Dunlap, 1699). It was found in a study that collected data from 14,282 youth, that age and gender were in fact key risk factors that were associated with running (Crossland, Dunlap, 1699). The youth aged from 15-17 were more likely to run away than those under 15, but of those who ran away, 90% ran from home for the first time when they were at least 12. Girls were far more likely than boys to run away. It was also discovered that the probability of youth running away was the highest in the first few months of placement in the foster care system. When the youth do run away, the ramifications are severe. They will more than likely miss school time, if they haven’t dropped out, and they are at risk of becoming victims of sexual assault, abusing drugs, and taking part in criminal activity. They also fail to gain an employment history which damages their chances of finding a suitable place to live. This will in fact lead to homelessness (Crossland, Dunlap, 1699).

Low educational attainment is a problem for many youths in the United States, but this is especially the case for foster children. A study was done (Hunter, 2014) involving 1,266 foster care youths in order to predict their academic attainment. This study found that those placed with a certified relative did better academically than those placed with non-relatives, benefiting from many opportunities because of their connections with their family. These youths not only performed better academically, but their self-esteem and confidence were significantly higher than those who were placed with non-relatives, making it easier for them to build trusting relationships with peers and teachers. The children placed with non-relatives were less likely to succeed. With some it was due to physical, sexual or mental abuse, which creates psychological problems that impair social functioning. For others, the lack of success was more than likely due to the fact that many of the foster parents, youths, and even social workers were not as knowledgeable of all of the resources that they have at their disposal. Said resources often go underutilized because not very many people know about the programs offered in their area (Hunter, 23).

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In addition to low educational attainment, youth in the foster care system are more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system than others. “Consequently, nearly half of all youths who age-out are arrested after they transition from foster care at age 21” (Osei, et. al, p. 34). Taking all the different types of foster care into consideration, of the three main types (traditional foster care, therapeutic foster care, and group care), therapeutic foster care seemed to prevent the largest number of crimes due to the increased counseling. Therapeutic foster care settings are typically smaller, with more staff on site to help the foster youths manage any problems they’re having. It is indeed important to find the most appropriate placement for at-risk youth to help them avoid entering the criminal justice system (Osei, et. al, pp. 43-44).

As if the prior problems aren’t enough, teen pregnancy among the youth in the foster care system has proved to be an obstacle that prevents these young people from achieving their educational and employment goals. “…teen girls in foster care are two and a half times more likely than those not in the system to experience a pregnancy by age 19” (Bilchik, Wilson-Simmons, p. 16). It’s acknowledged that being removed from their homes and not forming any important connections with others to “anchor” themselves, can in fact result in early pregnancies due to a lack of guidance. These early pregnancies can result in the youth born to these young mothers being put into the foster care system themselves. Without the help and support that they need, young females in the foster care system will continue to suffer from this very difficult problem, along with the repercussions due to their already disadvantaged state (Bilchik, Wilson-Simmons, p. 17).

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This report has covered five major problems within the foster care system: abuse, running away, low educational attainment, involvement in the juvenile justice or criminal justice system, and teen pregnancy. Much research is being conducted on these and other problems, and some of the researchers have pointed to potential solutions not discussed in this paper with social scientific evidence that could support the development of evidence-based programs for foster youth to help solve these problems. It would seem that all we have to do is implement these solutions. However, foster care is notoriously underfunded, and local, state, and federal government agencies lack the resources to try these effective solutions. What is called for at this time is the political will among our elected officials to prioritize the needs of our most vulnerable population: children without parental care.


Works Cited

Bilchik, Shay and Wilson-Simmons, René. “Preventing Teen Pregnancy among Youth in Foster Care.” Policy & Practice (19426828), vol. 68, no. 2, Apr. 2010, p. 16. EBSCOhost,

Bilchik and Wilson-Simmons discuss one of the biggest problems that female youth in the foster care system face, presenting us with opportunities and preventative measures to take in order to avoid early pregnancies in the future. They discuss further what can lead to teen pregnancies among the youth in the foster care system. I will include this in my research report to illustrate yet another problem troubling the foster care system.

Crossland, K. & Dunlap, G. J. “Running Away from Foster Care: What Do We Know and What Do We Do? Journal of Child and Family Studies, Springer Science+Business Media New York. Vol. 24, no. 6, June 2015, pp. 1697-1706. EBSCOhost,

This article provides the audience with a detailed explanation as to what motivates the youth in the foster care system to run away from their current placement(s), how running is defined within the foster care system, as well as the ramifications of doing so. It will also touch on potential strategies to decrease how often the children run. I am going to use this in my report in order to help my audience as well as myself better understand why the youth placed in the foster care system feel the need to leave their place of residence at all. I am confident in the reliability of my source due to the fact that it is published by a company that is known for peer-reviewed journals in science, humanities and technical and medical publishing.

Hunter, Dana R., et al. “Understanding Correlates of Higher Educational Attainment among Foster Care Youths.” Child Welfare, vol. 93, no. 5, Sept. 2014, p. 9. EBSCOhost,

The article by Dana Hunter (and others) is a study done on a little over 1,200 youths in the foster care system, involving the academic success rates of children placed in the care of family members versus those who were not. This study was done in the context of social capitol theory, demonstrating that social capitol plays a role in educational attainment. This will be used in my article in order to draw attention to the importance of the caregiver in charge of the youth within the foster care system. This article is reliable because it is a child welfare journal.

Morton, Brenda. “Seeking Safety, Finding Abuse: Stories from Foster Youth on Maltrestment and Its Impact on Academic Achievement.Child & Youth Services, vol. 36, no. 3, Jul-Sep2015, pp. 205-225. EBSCOhost,

This article by Brenda Morton focuses on the maltreatment of youth in the foster care system, and the effect that it has on their academic careers. She also goes over the rate at which the youth within the foster care system drop out of school, and the emotional and behavioral challenges that come with the trauma and abuse that they’ve endured. This will help in my research report, as it goes hand in hand with why the children who are being mistreated are less likely to remain at their out-of-home care placements. This article is reliable in the way that it was published by a global publishing company, which publishes academic books, journals about the humanities and social sciences.

Osei, Gershon, et al. “Delinquency and Crime Prevention: Overview of Research Comparing Treatment Foster Care and Group Care.” Child & Youth Care Forum, vol. 45, no. 1, Feb. 2016, pp. 33-46. EBSCOhost,

The article by Gershon Osei (and others) discusses a small study that was done involving youth in the foster care system from ages 10-18. It explores the potential solutions to higher delinquency rates in the youth. I will use this article in my report to provide the audience with an understanding of what could potentially help youth in the system, should we put in the time and man power needed to avoid any children being overlooked or neglected in any way. This article is reliable because this is the same company that publishes peer-reviewed journals in science, humanities, and technical and medical studies.