While many Americans may be aware of the foster care system in this country, few know much about how the system really works, or understand its shortcomings.
And the sad reality is that outcomes for youth who spend time in foster care are, far too often, devastating. Of the homeless adult population in the U.S., 26% have spent time in foster care, 25% of prison inmates are former foster youth and the majority of sexually trafficked youth are current or former foster youth. It’s clear that many children in foster care aren’t given a fair chance at life.
In 2017, I co-founded Binti, with the vision to help every child have a loving home to grow up in. We build easy-to-use software for state and county child welfare agencies to improve outcomes for children. Working with over 200 agencies in 30 states, to date we’ve approved over 40,000 families to care for children in the foster care system. During that time, we’ve learned several important lessons.
We need more families who are open to not just support the child, but the family of origin. In many cases, the goal is to help reunify a child with their family of origin. We need more families willing to provide love during a hard time in a child’s life, and support efforts to reunify the child with their family of origin. It’s challenging to open your heart and then have a child move on, but it’s a beautiful way to support children and families in your community.
We need more families open to teenagers. In most agencies we work with across the country, we have an acute shortage of families who are open to fostering or adopting teens. Without a foster home, these children are placed in group homes, which are proven to have poor child outcomes. We desperately need more families who are open to fostering and adopting teens.
We need to make it more welcoming for families to apply to be foster parents. The process to apply to become a foster parent is often cumbersome and loaded with paperwork. In our experience, after an agency switches to allowing families to complete their application online, they see an 80% increase in the number of families approved per year and a 16% decrease in time to approval. With a nationwide shortage of families, we need to make efforts to make the process easier for families.
We need to find and support relatives and friends of the family to take in youth. Putting a child into foster care is an extremely disruptive event. Children are pulled from their home, often with little notice, and taken to a strange new place where they don’t know anyone. Working with relatives and friends of the families of the child ensures that the child can be placed with someone they are familiar with or within their existing community, minimizing disruption and not surprisingly, resulting in better outcomes for children.
We need to do more to support families to stay together. Once children are in foster care, it’s crucial that they be placed in safe and loving homes. But ideally, they wouldn’t enter the foster care system in the first place. Our child welfare systems must focus more on prevention, and getting families the help they need before it becomes necessary to remove the child from the home. Out of all child maltreatment cases, 60.1% are attributed to neglect, which includes situations in which a family simply doesn’t have the means to feed, shelter, and/or take care of their children. Before creating trauma for a child by putting them into foster care, let’s help families get the support they need to ensure that their home is equipped to raise their children.
I deeply believe it’s possible for every child in the U.S. to have a loving, safe home. If we can improve the way we support families to stay together and reunify, increase our support of kin families to take in children, and help more loving families get approved to foster and adopt, we will ensure that more children have a stable family — and a fair chance at life.