One of the most wounded populations of children and adults we work with at Evergreen Psychotherapy Center are those who have been through the foster care system. Unfortunately, this is also the population that is often the most disenfranchised, with the least access to therapeutic supports.
In this series of blogs, we will discuss the special challenges and needs of foster children and their caregivers and address ways of diminishing the trauma of foster care. We will also focus on foster parents, the supports they need and the strategies they can implement to create healing homes.
According to the Children’s Rights organization, in 2017 more than 690,000 children in the United States spent time in foster care. On any given day, 443,000 children were in the system. These numbers have been on the rise since the 1980s and there is little indication that they will decline. As long as there are parents who do not nurture, love and protect children, there will be a need for foster care. And, as long as there are chronic social problems that lead to high-risk children and families, temporary or longer-term out-of-home care will be a reality for thousands of traumatized children.
Although foster care was originally intended to provide a safe, nurturing temporary home, on average, children are in the system for nearly two years. A small percentage of children are in care for five or more years, with many remaining until they “age out” as young adults.
As a result of neglect, abuse, the absence of secure attachments, losses that led to out-of-home placements, and the trauma of removal from their homes foster children are often burdened with numerous medical, emotional, social, and behavioral issues.
- 75% of foster children have a family history of mental illness or drug and alcohol abuse.
- 62% experienced prenatal drug or alcohol exposure.
- 80% have developmental, emotional and behavioral problems.
- Nearly 50% have cognitive learning disabilities.
- More than 82% have at least one serious medical condition.
Although thousands of foster parents provide conscientious and heartfelt care, the system often fails to protect the very children it’s designed to protect. Children entering the foster care system commonly do not receive the diagnostic or treatment services they need. Meanwhile, foster parents are typically underpaid and don’t have access to adequate training or support. As a result, stability and safety are often lacking as children are moved from one foster home to another. The stories of abusive and neglectful foster homes are well-documented.
Even when children are placed in loving foster homes, they bring their pain with them. Early attachment disruptions results in children who are anxious, impulsive, lack self-control, and cannot manage their emotional stress.
The outcomes are telling. About 20,000 youths leave the foster care system each year, usually when they turn 18. They are often unprepared and unconnected. Due to the lack of support typically provided for the transition to adulthood, combined with unresolved psychological problems, these young adults have severe difficulties after exiting foster care. They are more likely to experience homelessness, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and prison time.
- Between 25% and 41% of former foster youths spend time in prison.
- 38 % of adults coming out of the system have severe emotional problems.
- 50% of adults coming out of the system use drugs.
- Between 24% and 31% experience homelessness.
- Only 48 % graduate from high school.
- Unemployment ranges between 35% and 51% for those who grew up in foster care.
Hope for Healing
Despite the many, often overwhelming, challenges foster children face, there is also hope for healing. Well-trained, loving foster parents can make an immense difference in their charges’ lives.
Studies show that infants and young children, victims of abuse, neglect and multiple disruptions, were able to make substantial emotional, cognitive, social and physical improvements when placed in stable and loving homes. They were able to develop secure attachments as long as their foster mother valued attachment and had come to terms with her own attachment issues. Research has also shown that toddlers fostered or adopted from orphanages in Romania and other countries, where they experienced extreme neglect have been able to change their attachment behavior over time. Many of these traumatized children learned to trust and depend on foster and adoptive parents who were sensitive responsive and consistently healing parents.
With the right supports, commitment and training foster parents can help the children in their care grow into adults are able to navigate their world and relationships in healthy ways.