Social work has long been involved in child foster care. Though its initial involvement de-emphasized the importance of infant–caregiver attachment, Bowlby’s theory of attachment is particularly relevant for child-welfare practice. This entry chronicles the history of child foster care and describes the evolution of legislation most pertinent for the provision of foster care. The characteristics of children in foster care since 2000 and the dynamic flow of children entering and exiting care are described. A brief account of foster care services and future trends in the field are highlighted.
Joyce E. Everett
Joe M. Schriver
This entry focuses on the transition to independent living process required of youth and young adults who are “aging out” of the foster care system. It addresses the multiple risks and challenges faced by young people who are aging out of care and those of young adults who have “aged out.” This entry addresses existing policies and programs intended to assist youth who are transitioning from care. Current research findings about the experience of these youth over time both prior to and after exiting foster care are presented. Finally, the unique risks and challenges faced by as well as existing resources for LGBTQ youth who are in the process of or who have aged out are presented as an exemplar of unique needs and experiences of youth from vulnerable populations. Attention is also given to the strengths and resiliency of many former foster care youth who successfully make the transition from foster care to independent living.
Aakanksha Sinha and Ruth G. McRoy
Every year thousands of children are removed from their families and are placed into out-of-home care. While these children are placed in care settings with a hope of a better future, they are often faced with many challenges that impact their short and long terms growth. As of 2017, 442,995 children have been removed from their families and placed in the U.S. foster care system for an average of 20.1 months. Placement occurs for several reasons, such as neglect, parent incarceration, drug abuse, and caretakers’ inability to cope. Twenty-seven percent (117,110) have been in care over two years, and all of these children face many obstacles in life that can impact their short- and long-term well-being. One of the most significant challenges they face is access to a stable educational environment that supports positive mental, emotional, behavioral, physical, and social growth. Frequent moves, lack of coordination between schools, and underdeveloped infrastructure to support unique needs are some of the significant predictors of disproportionately poor education outcomes for children in foster care and other residential settings. The lack of stable educational environment leads to a number of challenges related to enrollment, stability, access to special services, peer relations, grade retention, and caregiver and teacher familiarity with academic strengths and weaknesses of the child. To improve their educational outcomes, there is a need for advocacy and significant changes at the at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. Consistent efforts need to be made by stakeholders, such as state and federal government, schools, child welfare systems, and community partners to address systemic inequities, improve current policies and practices, increase accessibility to quality schools, provide mental health services, and, most importantly, establish a stable environment that will enable the youth to flourish and succeed.
Peter J. Pecora
The mission of child welfare is multifaceted and includes: (a) responding to the needs of children reported to public child-protection agencies as being abused, neglected, or at risk of child maltreatment; (b) providing children placed in out-of-home care with developmentally appropriate services; and (c) helping children find permanent homes in the least-restrictive living situations possible; and (d) providing “post-permanency” services to children so they do not return to foster care. This section describes the mission, scope, and selected issues of major child-welfare-program areas.
Mark E. Courtney
Child welfare services in the United States evolved from voluntary “child saving” efforts in the 19th century into a system of largely government-funded interventions aimed at identifying and protecting children from maltreatment, preserving the integrity of families that come to the attention of child welfare authorities, and finding permanent homes for children who cannot safely remain with their families. Since the 1970s, the federal government has played an increasing role in funding and creating the policy framework for child welfare practice. That child welfare services are disproportionately directed toward members of ethnic and racial minorities has been an enduring concern.
Runaways, throwaways, and homeless youths have always been present in the United States. In recent decades, however, society has become more aware of the problems they face as the problems have become more severe. The effectiveness of new approaches to helping these youths is yet to be determined.