What Is Foster Care?

Most of us have probably heard about the foster care system, but what really is it? The foster care system involves providing temporary care and emotional support to a child or youth during a time of crisis. Generally, children and youth are placed into foster care when living with their parents is deemed unsafe or the parents are unable to take care of them. These children and youth are taken in by family relatives, non-relative adults or a group home until they can safely return home to their family. If they are unable to return to their own parents, adoption or long-term foster care is an alternative option.

Impact Of Foster Care

Being removed from home is a difficult and stressful experience for any child, and it can be even worse for those that have already suffered from some form of abuse or neglect. In the U.S., approximately 30% of children in foster care have severe emotional, behavioural, or developmental problems. These children generally suffer from:

  • · Feeling guilty or blaming themselves about removal from their parents

  • · Wanting to return to their birth parents

  • · Feeling unwanted, helpless, and/or insecure

  • · Questioning emotions and positive feelings for their foster parents

Abuse in the Foster Care System

In a perfect world, the foster care system would support abused and neglected children and provide a nurturing environment for their development. For some, this may be true, but for many, the foster care system ends up causing additional harm. A study conducted by John Hopkins University found that children in the U.S. foster care system are four times more likely to be sexually abused than children not in the system, and children in group homes are 28% more likely to be abused. In many cases, foster care children are taught not to speak up and are conditioned to think that abuse is 'normal'. For this reason, many children remain in abusive environments, which can lead to further mental health problems and addiction.

In Ontario, foster parents must work with Children’s Aid Staff and complete a Structured Analysis, Family Evaluation home study (SAFE), and Parent Resources for Information Development and Education pre-service (PRIDE) before being able to foster a child. By implementing these programs, the risk of child abuse greatly decreases, although it does not disappear completely.

"Foster care children are taught to not speak up and are conditioned to think that abuse is 'normal'."

Youth After Foster Care

There are approximately 440,000 foster youth nationwide in Canada. Despite efforts to prevent the removal of children from their parents, this number is gradually increasing and demand for foster parents is at an all-time high. Of this number, 30,000 youth between the ages of 18-21 are removed from the system annually and are forced to fend for themselves. Arrow, an international child placement agency, indicates that 40 to 50% of foster care children will not complete high school, and 60% will be homeless, go to jail, or die within one year of leaving the system.

In order to reduce numbers of youth on the streets and in jail, more support must be given to youth who age out of care. As said by Bruce Rivers, executive director of Covenant House, "When a child is in care, it’s because they need protection, and every year anywhere from 800 to 1,000 [in Ontario] age out of the system. They are the type of children at the greatest risk of being victimized if they don’t have a family. They are at the greatest risk of predators. More needs to be done so less slip through the cracks."

Moving Forward

It is clear that there are a variety of problems within the foster care system. Although some organizations are working on improving the system, a lot more work must be done. To help the system, it is important that we:

1. Educate ourselves on the topic

2. Support youth after they age out of care

3. Enforce training and strict regulations for foster care parents

4. Listen to and believe children in the foster care system

These issues will not be solved overnight, however, if we all work towards a common goal, there is hope for a better tomorrow.

Written By: Jasper