Foster Care – A Failed System

Changes in Congregate Care in 8 States (9/30/04-9/30/13), Author US Govt. Accountability Office (GAO), Source, (PD as work product of federal govt.)

Reporting by the Washington Post confirms what the public has long known.  Our foster care system is failing, nationwide.

One major flaw involves the use of detention centers and similar facilities to house children who have committed no infraction whatsoever [1A].


“…in an era when a surging number of biological parents are falling into the grips of drug addiction, and child welfare systems are struggling with a shortage of foster parents…case workers and courts have been funneling children into crowded emergency shelters, hotels, out-of-state institutions and youth prisons — cold, isolating and often dangerous facilities not built to house innocent children for years [1B].”

Both literally and figuratively, children taken into foster care for their own protection are instead being warehoused with rapists and murderers.  Some are forced to sleep on cement floors with harsh fluorescent lights on during lockdowns.

Scope of the Failure

Because foster care is decentralized, accurate figures are difficult to come by.

As of 2013, approximately 56,000 of the 400,000 children in foster care across the country (14% of the foster care population) were living in what is known as “congregate” care – group homes, detention centers, residential drug treatment facilities, and the like [2].  In West Virginia, fully 71% of 6800 foster children between the ages of 12 and 17 have been relegated to such institutions [1C].

The Opioid Crisis is greatly increasing those numbers.

Devastating Impact

Children in congregate care are isolated, hazed and/or bullied.  Access to case workers, counseling, and education is limited, at best.  The impact on children is devastating.

A larger proportion in congregate care drop out of school, develop mental health issues, and/or commit crimes, when compared with the children living with foster families [1D].  Some run away.  Some resort to drugs and alcohol, themselves.  Some attempt suicide.

This should come as no surprise.  The institutionalization of children was recognized as so harmful to their development that most American orphanages were shut down following WWII [3][4][5].

In Search of a Home

The non-profit A Better Life has filed suit against 10 states for such conditions.  But the foster care system has clearly failed these children.

Social workers cope daily with low salaries, overwhelming caseloads, and threats to their personal safety [6].  It may take years for the necessary case study, even when a family can be found willing to adopt a child.

More funding, more training for foster parents, and more foster and adoptive parents are all desperately needed.  For a child in search of a home, the benefits of a loving family are incalculable [7].

If there were ever a situation crying out for Christians – indeed all Americans – to step up, this is it.  Platitudes are useless.  God expects us to do something about injustice.  Lip service alone is not enough [8].

“…the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do” (Deut. 14: 29).

[1A , 1B, and 1C]  Washington Post, “‘Destroying these kids’:  The foster children growing up in detention centers” by Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, 12/30/19,

[2]  US GAO, “Foster Care:  HHS Could Do More to Support States’ Efforts to Keep Children in Family-Based Care”, 11/9/15,

[3], “End of American Orphanages”,

[4]  Quartz, “The US has a shameful history of orphaning children” by Annabelle Timsit, 6/20/18,

[5]  Washington Post, “Orphanages are no place for children” by Laurie Ahern, 8/9/13,

[6]  National Association of Social Workers, “NASW Child Welfare Report”, 6/04,

[7]  Child Welfare Information Gateway (US Dept. of Health and Human Services), “Families Considering Foster Care and Adoption”, 6/19,

[8]  Show Hope, “4 Things the Bible Says about Orphans”, 1/29/17,

USA Today reports that children in Florida’s foster care system have been beaten, starved, and molested with few caregivers ever punished. 




Filed under bullying, Child Abuse, Child Molestation, Christianity, domestic abuse, domestic violence, Emotional Abuse, Justice, Law, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse

19 responses to “Foster Care – A Failed System

  1. The data referenced in your post leaves no doubt that America’s foster care system is failing Anna. Reading some of the linked articles you posted paints a very sobering picture of abject failure and is disheartening to say the least.

    While there has always been a need for foster care, it’s obvious the needs have never been as great as they are today.

    In large part I believe this is due to our society’s lack of love for children in general. Once thought of as our nation’s future, children today are all too often treated as an inconvenience,a throwaway commodity that are simply in the way.

    Of course,we cannot escape blame for helping to create this disastrous mindset. After all,we have devalued children to the point of terminating their lives while in their mother’s womb.

    Government run care programs are a pitiful replacement for the love and nurturing that every child deserves. That must come from the home of loving parents. Perhaps the answer lies at finding solutions to the epidemic of broken homes and marriages?

  2. Hope it can be improved to help those in need

  3. That’s really a compelling post. If this is the state of the American system, just imagine the plight of children in third world countries. I don’t know which is the correct system. In my country, we cling to children for life, but the newer and younger generations are desperately trying to change that, fetching inspiration from the Western systems. On the other hand, we see the incongruity of Western systems and get further confused.

  4. Francisco Bravo Cabrera

    A very good and informative post, Anna. As a former deputy sheriff, I know that these facts are quite accurate and unfortunately true. The system is the worst I’ve ever seen or ever heard of. The tragedy of children who are taken in for protective care is immense and my heart always broke when I had to confront those situations in the course of my duty. I could never understand how the state would create such a system and then not equip it correctly as it should be. Children taken in for protective custody are not accused of any criminal offense so there should never be contact between them and those who are awaiting trial in a jail. I thank you that you care enough to post such great articles that should make people in the US think and perhaps even better, demand action from the state.
    My greetings from Spain, Anna and all the best,

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Francisco. I agree that the system will change only if there is public pressure brought to bear. Unfortunately, I can only hope to reach a small audience. Sadly, our politicians do not see this as an important issue. Their own ambitions take center stage.

    • Francisco, unfortunately we in America long ago decided that our children would not be valued as they once were. As horrific as that sounds, the statistics prove that to be true. We in America are convinced that the answer lies in throwing enough money at a problem to make it go away. As someone else said,”how’s that working for us”?

      • Francisco Bravo Cabrera

        It is a big problem because they grow up and perpetuate the problem…I appreciate your reply and the point of view reference the reality in America. It is getting to that extreme in Europe as well, unfortunately.

  5. In Canada those who wish to provide foster care are often excluded or limited because they are Christians – it is tough when the system wants more people to offer care but those whose faith often is the basis for wanting to step in the gap is the very reason they are not allowed to be a part

  6. Anna, our whole system of democracy has crawled into the shadows of a dark, dark corner. Much in the same way that all great civilizations have before they collapsed. We are holding onto one last thread of decency- to choose the right democratic candidate and to vote this November. May God be with us. Thank you for keeping the flame alive.

  7. theburningheart

    Very sad… 😦

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