May is Foster Care Awareness Month and it could not come at a more important time. Foster families across the country are stepping up for some of the most vulnerable children in our society. Nonetheless, the foster care system is in crisis as the number of children in need of care is rising year after year. We need better solutions to give these young people the future they deserve.
Foster care is a temporary living arrangement for youth whose parents are unable, unwilling, or unfit to care for their children. This situation can be caused by a wide variety of factors but the annual U.S. Government AFCARS report tells us the major reasons for foster care are neglect, parental drug abuse, and physical abuse – amongst others such as housing scarcity, parental incarceration, and alcohol and sexual abuse.
In the U.S. we have rightly moved on from orphanages. The question remains however, how much better for youth is foster care if many of those placed in care bounce from home to home and many are never reunited with their family or placed into an adoptive family that can give them the love, and the stability, that they need.
This lack of stability only worsens as the number of children entering foster care continues to increase. At the end of 2017 there were 442,995 children in foster care – a number that has increased every year since 2010. If we are to achieve a world in which every child has the safe, loving family they deserve then this number needs to reduce, not increase.
The most significant factor in this increase is the number of children entering the foster care system due to the opioid crisis. Every year since 2015 (when this was first measured) the number of children needing foster care because of parental drug abuse has increased. The latest figures show 36% of children entering foster care in 2017 came from a situation with parental drug abuse. With no clear solutions from government this number will likely only continue to increase.
Of course this factor only adds to the instability of foster care and a lack of permanence for our most vulnerable youth – something they need more than anything. This instability also means too often governments struggle to retain enough foster parents to give the youth in their system the care they need.
By reducing the number of children entering foster care, particularly by tackling the impacts of the opioid crisis, and increasing the number of foster families available to provide support we can improve the lot for these children who need our help the most. That is what Hopeland is working to achieve.
There is a reason to be hopeful, however. In NYC, where Hopeland is based, the Administration for Children’s Services has overseen a dramatic decline in the number of children in foster care from 16,854 in 2007 to 8,732 now. That means thousands of NYC children now have a permanent home to call their own that will allow them to be their best and thrive.
Hopeland will continue to advocate for policies that will achieve this success nationwide. We believe working towards systemic change is the only viable solution – simply stepping in when the problem is at its worst is neither sufficient, nor sustainable. Together we need to tackle these issues at root to ensure a better future for every vulnerable child. Follow us on social media throughout May to learn more about this important issue and what we can do.