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May 16, 2008 permalink
The stereotype of foster children taken from miserable homes and moved to upscale families is false. Data released by the Annie E Casey Foundation shows that foster homes are on average at a lower socio-economic level than the general population. Children taken into foster care go from bad to worse.
Study: Big gaps in foster vs. traditional homes
By Wendy Koch, USA TODAY
Children in foster care live in poorer, more crowded and less educated homes than kids in other families, often taking them from one disadvantaged environment into another, new research shows.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation study is the first to analyze 2006 Census Bureau data, the most recent available, for a detailed look at foster parents.
"The gaps were so pervasive," says demographer William O'Hare.
O'Hare finds foster households have a lower average income, $56,364, than do all households with children, $74,301, even though they care for more kids.
Half of foster households have three or more children compared with 21% of all other households with that many. The study also finds foster parents are more likely than others to be unemployed and lack a high school diploma.
"Too often the foster care experience adds to the disadvantages these children" have already endured, says O'Hare, noting that most kids are placed in the foster system because of abuse or neglect.
About 510,000 children were in U.S. foster care in September 2006, the most recent count provided by the Department of Health and Human Services. Of those, 40% were white, 32% black and 19% Hispanic.
O'Hare's study adds a "unique" national perspective to other research showing foster parents are, "in some instances, lower working class," says Fred Wulczyn, research fellow at the University of Chicago's Chapin Hall Center for Children.
Wulczyn says many foster children come from poor families, and social workers make an effort to keep them with relatives or at least in their own community.
"There's a lot to be said for maintaining cultural ties," he says. He adds, however, that when the state takes responsibility for children, it should try to improve their circumstances, by offering help to struggling foster parents or by seeking parents with greater resources.
O'Hare's findings focus mostly on children in non-relative family care, which accounts for about half of all foster kids. Others live with relatives or, in the case of the 464 children removed from a polygamist sect's ranch in Texas last month, in institutions or group homes.
Foster parents related to the kids in their care are even more likely than other foster parents to be poor, single and older, because many of them are grandparents, says Rob Geen, vice president for public policy at Child Trends, a non-partisan research center.
He says many people who become foster parents have been personally touched by foster care.
"They're not in it for the money," says Geen, adding they often dig into their pockets to cover the full costs of caring for the children.
FOSTER CARE VS. TRADITIONAL
Foster children tend to live in households that are poorer, less educated and more crowded than the typical U.S. household with children.
Homes with foster care
Household income: $56,364
Household with at least 3 children: 50%
Parent with no high school diploma: 21%
Parent didn't work last year: 20%
Homes without foster care
Household income: $74,301
Household with at least 3 children: 21%
Parent with no high school diploma: 14%
Parent didn't work last year: 13%
Source: William O'Hare of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, based on Census Bureau's 2006 American Community Survey
Source: USA Today