Fixing Foster Care

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For some children, the foster care system is the best route out of abusive living situations to stable loving homes. Thanks to new state reforms and procedures children are spending less time in foster care limbo- court cases are being expedited and adoptions are happening faster.

In June, many websites, including Forbes.com and MSNBC.com, and print publications ran a story by Associated Press David Crary on the successful reforms of the foster care system. The system has three key components- shorter stays in foster care; faster adoptions; and reaching out to, intervening and offering support to troubled families so that children can avoid entering foster care in the first place.  This strategy that approaches foster care from all angles has had great success in many states dramatically lowering the number of children in foster care. John Mattingly, commissioner of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services, pointed out that since the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1990s, the foster care population in New York City has been declining from its highest at 50,000 children. According to the most recent federal data the number of children in foster care in the United States has decreased by 17% since 1998.

Though some worry that budget cuts will affect the new policies, it’s not stopping some states - New York, Florida, California and Ohio, to name a few - from pursuing their goals of significantly lowering the foster child population.  These states have been working diligently to reduce their budgets, and they deem a child’s removal from their home the ‘worst case scenario’. One of the major problems keeping foster children out of adopted homes is the slow moving court system. Even though drastic reforms are being made, it’s not the norm yet, and delays in the courts still occur.

A new budget cut in New York could cost 3,000 families any preventive services , and without the funding, it’s hard to tell whether these new procedures will continue to be successful or not. Preventive service programs provide counseling to struggling families to try to avoid a child’s removal. Jane Golden of The Children’s Aid Society said, “All of these models that we’ve seen as successful are in danger - there’s a great risk of going back to the old days.”

Whatever the situation - poverty, neglect or abuse - many children are removed from their homes but often have long waits to join new, safe and supportive families.  Only time and perseverance can bring about change, and we hope the budget cuts do not affect the hard work and great progress that have been made in improving the foster care system.