The recent announcement that the number of U.S. children in foster care had dropped by 8 percent in the last year and 20 percent in the last decade certainly is welcome news.
In Kansas, the number of children in foster care hit a high of 6,631 in 2007. In fiscal year 2009, the state had 5,691 children in foster care, the lowest number since 2002 and 9.7 percent lower than in 2008.
Foster care is a vital service for children who cannot safely be left in their homes, but it is intended to be a temporary measure until a better living situation can be arranged. Long stays in foster care aren’t a desirable goal, especially if those stays involve moves to several different foster homes.
Officials and child-welfare advocates have noted several reasons for the decline in foster care numbers. Key among those are efforts to provide expanded support for troubled families so they can address the problems that might result in children being removed from their homes in the first place. If those efforts aren’t successful, states now are trying to move children more quickly through the process that will allow them to be adopted by a loving family.
The foster care trend also has been aided, advocates say, by the 2008 Fostering Connections Act, which uses federal funds to assist children who leave foster care to live with relatives other than their parents. Keeping those children with responsible family members is a desirable outcome in many cases, but those relatives had not previously been eligible to receive federal aid.
The Kansas foster care system has undergone considerable change since it was privatized by the state in 1996. In a legislative committee hearing earlier this year, some lawmakers said they regretted that decision but others pointed out significant improvements in the system since it was turned over to private operators.
It’s important to remember that the primary focus of the foster care and adoption system is the welfare of the child. Social workers must make every effort to protect the rights of biological parents and preserve their relationship with their child, but it’s not surprising that some parents feel they were treated unfairly by “the system.” That simply goes with the territory. Returning a child to his or her parents can be a tough call and a mistake can sometimes have tragic results.
Loving foster parents certainly deserve a special place in heaven, but moving children out of their foster care limbo and into permanent homes with other relatives or adopted families gives them the stability on which to build a productive future. The fact that more children in Kansas and across the country are getting that opportunity is a positive trend.