Discrimination in the Foster Care System

According to Dorothy Roberts, professor at Northwestern University's School of Law and author of Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (2002),
“The number of black (and Latino) children in state custody is a national disgrace that reflects systemic injustices and calls for radical reform.”

Following is an excerpt from PBS Frontline “Race and Class in the Child Welfare System” by Dorothy Roberts

According to federal statistics, black children in the child welfare system are placed in foster care at twice the rate for white children. A national study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that "minority children, and in particular African American children, are more likely to be in foster care placement than receive in-home services, even when they have the same problems and characteristics as white children" [emphasis added]. Most white children who enter the system are permitted to stay with their families, avoiding the emotional damage and physical risks of foster care placement, while most black children are taken away from theirs. And once removed from their homes, black children remain in foster care longer, are moved more often, receive fewer services, and are less likely to be either returned home or adopted than any other children.

Effects of Foster Care on Children

Foster care is supposed to be a temporary solution whereby the child is adopted by a loving family or is reunited with the biological family once the situation is deemed safe. But the average child remains in foster care for two years, often being shuffled from one home to another. Some children are never reunified or adopted, and the effects are damaging:

1) Foster children are more likely to become victims of sex trafficking
Given their need for love, protection and their often impaired development of social boundaries, foster care children make easier targets for sex traffickers. According to California Against Slavery (CAS):

  • In 2012, studies estimate that between 50-80% of commercially sexually exploited children in California are or were formally involved with the child welfare system
  • 58% of 72 sexually trafficked girls in Los Angeles County’s STARS Court in 2012 were kids who had lived in foster care
  • The most common age for children in the sex trade is 11-13 years for boys and 12-14 years for girls

Source: California Against Slavery (CAS) Research & Education

2) Foster children are more likely to become homeless, incarcerated and/or rely on government assistance
In 2012, 23,396 youth aged out of the U.S. foster care system without the emotional and financial support necessary to succeed.

  • Nearly 40% had been homeless or couch surfed
  • Almost 60% of young men had been convicted of a crime
  • Only 48% were employed
  • 75% of women and 33% of men receive government benefits to meet basic needs
  • 17% of the females were pregnant

Source: AFCARS Report, No. 20, Jim Casey Youth

3) Foster children attain lower levels of education, even though one study shows 70% of all youth in foster care have the desire to attend college,

  • nearly 25% of youth aging out did not have a high school diploma or GED
  • and a mere 6% had finished a two- or four-year degree after aging out of foster care

Source: Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth