Lilly McAveeney Final Paper

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FOSTER CARE: FOSTERING FUTURE INSTABILITY
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Lilly McAveeney
Instructor: Martha Martinez
Honors 201
30 May 2017
Foster Care: Fostering Future Instability
Who is responsible for caring for minors that are without a stable family unit or victims of
abuse and neglect? The Federal Foster Care program is responsible for those children who are
abused or neglected. The financial responsibility of caring for these children falls into the hands
of the federal government and the states, while the responsibility of seeing that the child is
capable of being successful in their future falls mostly into the hands of their educators, i.e., the
state. This paper will discuss the funding of foster care, the educational issues facing the youth
of this population and conclude with a discussion of the importance of education in a capitalistic
society.
This essay will begin by defining the role of the government on a capitalistic system. It will
then provide a brief overview of the child welfare system as it pertains to the Federal Foster Care
Program. As the paper progresses, it will discuss federal funding, while providing an
understanding of the distribution of funding within the foster care system. It will discuss the
importance of education for foster children and will provide an overview of the educational
obstacles facing this population and how such obstacles cause foster care alumni to face
challenges in their future. Finally, it will discuss the importance of education for this population
in a capitalistic society and close with a comment on the effectiveness of the government in
fulfilling its role within this system.
The Role of Government in a Capitalistic System
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The government’s role in a capitalist economy is to promote and fund important social
programs that the markets will not otherwise fund. The obligation of the government to fill this
role is founded in the US Constitution and the obligation to ensure and support the unalienable
rights of life and liberty (Staff, 2010). The theory being that if the government provides social
welfare programs the people benefiting from those programs will develop into active participants
in the economy. Child welfare programs are programs that are important to supporting a
segment of society that cannot support itself, but that will certainly grow into active participants
in the economy with the proper support.
Federal Foster Care Program Overview
The Federal Foster Care Program, or foster care, is authorized by title IV-E of the Social
Security Act under the Code of Federal Regulations. Foster care works to provide safe and
stable out-of-home care for children who have experienced abuse, neglect, or children without a
stable family unit. Children remain in foster care until they’re safely returned home, placed with
permanent and/or adoptive families, or placed into another planned permanent arrangement
(Children’s Bureau, 2012). According to the Children’s Bureau, in 2015 427,910 children were
in foster care (2016). To properly understand the funding of the Federal Foster Care program, it
is important to understand that foster care is a division of child welfare services in the United
States.
Foster care is one part of a wide range of child welfare services. The intention of child
welfare services is to prevent children from being abused and/or neglected by seeing that
children are in safe and permanent homes which promote the well-being of the child. According
to the United States Constitution, the role of ensuring the welfare of children and their families is
a primary obligation of the federal government with primary responsibility for delivering the
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services assigned to the states. There are various representatives working in the child welfare
system at the state level which make up both public and private child welfare services (Stolzfus,
2017). The funding for such services is public and private with the addition of federal funding.
For purposes of this discussion, we will be discussing federal funding specifically.
In the United States, there are various programs which go into funding for child welfare
services. Funding for child welfare services in the U.S. is comprised of local, state, and federal
dollars. Services administered by such agencies include: “(1) services for children and families
to prevent abuse and neglect, (2) family preservation services, (3) child protective services, (4)
in-home services, (5) out-of-home placement and (6) adoption and guardianship services and
support” (DeVooght & Cooper, 2012, p. 2). Funding for such services is 46% federal, 11%
local, and 43% state (DeVooght & Cooper, 2012). If 46% of funding is federal, then what is the
federal funding available for child welfare services?
There are various sources which help provide federal funding for child welfare services.
The principal programs which are dedicated to child welfare activities are titles IV-B and IV-E
of the Social Security Act (DeVooght and Cooper, 2012). Section IV-B of the Social Security
Act authorizes formula grant funds to states, territories, and tribes. Such funding provided to
these areas are intended for child welfare related services for both the children and their families.
These programs are authorized by the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate
Committee on Finance legislation. These programs include Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child
Welfare Services, Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program, Family Connection Grants, and
Child Welfare Research, Training, or Demonstration Projects (Stolzfus, 2017). It is important to
understand section IV-E of the Social Security Act as it is the one primarily concerned with the
Federal Foster Care Program.
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Although the state is considered primarily responsible for protecting children, Congress
also plays a role in this protection by assisting states in child welfare services (Find Law, n.d.).
The manifestation of this assistance is federal funding, however, to receive such federal support,
states must meet specific federal requirements. Title IV-E of the Social Security Act enables
states that meet the federal requirements to claim partial reimbursement of foster care costs in
addition to adoption assistance and kinship guardianship costs (Stolzfus, 2012).
Title IV-E of the Social Security Act authorizes the Federal Foster Care Program.
Section IV-E provides federal funds from the general treasury and is available on an open-ended
entitlement basis to the states. That is, it authorizes the states to obtain reimbursements from the
federal government for part of the costs they have dedicated to foster care, if they possess an IVE approved plan (Stolzfus, 2017). Open-ended entitlement basis means that the section allows
the state to receive partial reimbursement for room and board costs that are needed to support
children that are IV-E eligible (Moulta-Ali, Fernander-Alcantara, & Stolzfus, 2012). State child
welfare agencies are required to use Federal Title IV-E funds to provide foster care maintenance
payments.
As mentioned above, it is a requirement of state child welfare agencies to provide foster
care maintenance payments from Federal Title IV-E funds. Maintenance payments are payments
covering “food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies, a child’s personal
incidentals, liability insurance with respect to a child, reasonable travel to the child’s home for
visitation, and reasonable travel to school” (Moulta-Ali et al., 2012, p. 3). The federal
reimbursement rate ranges from 50% to 83% of the costs and varies between states. The
reimbursement rate is based on the state’s per capita income – higher per capita income states
FOSTER CARE: FOSTERING FUTURE INSTABILITY
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have lower federal reimbursement rates and vice versa (Murarova & Thornton, 2010). Just as
the reimbursement rates differ state-to-state, so does the distribution of federal funding.
It has been established that the federal government provides states with funding necessary
to administer child welfare programs and that the state government controls foster care
operations. Federal funding for foster care is received and administered by non-profit state
licensed organizations. The distribution of federal funds differs from state-to-state because the
state grant programs have their own requirements and allocations – all federal funds are required
to be received and administered by state and child welfare agencies (FindLaw, n.d.). Over the
years, the money provided by Congress in federal support for child welfare purposes is in the
billions of dollars.
States eligible for federal foster care assistance are bonded to the no longer existing Aid
to Families with Dependent Children Program. Due to this bond, the commitment to foster care
by the federal government has lessened each year and continues to shift a larger share of the
burden to the states. This downward trend has forced states to compensate for the lack of federal
funds by dipping into other programs (First Focus, 2016). Although the amount of money
reimbursed by the federal government seems high and continues to slightly increase each year,
federal funding continues to fall short.
In recent years, Congress has provided between $7.6 billon to $8.7 billion in federal
support for child welfare purposes annually. In 2015, dedicated federal funding for child welfare
programs equaled about $8.2 billion, federal funds dedicated to Title IV-E equaled $7.424 billion
(Stolzfus, 2017). Of such funds, 61.7% -- or $4.581 billion -- was dedicated to foster care
specifically (Children’s Budget 2016, 2016). In 2016, dedicated federal funding for child
welfare programs totaled to about $8.7 billion, federal funds dedicated to Title IV-E were about
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$7.8 billion (Stolzfus, 2017). Of such federal funds, 61.5% -- or $4.8 billion – were dedicated to
foster care maintenance (Children’s Budget 2016, 2016). To reiterate, these funds only cover the
basic needs of foster children such as food, clothing, shelter, and safety.
The Importance of the Educational Experience for Foster Children
Covering the basic needs of foster children ensures survival, but this should not be the
only goal – the goal should also be to help foster children and youth to be successful in life. Due
to the high rates of instability in this population, funding is insufficient due to the absence of
educational resources. This population has unique educational needs that cannot be fulfilled by a
traditional educational system, they require resources that are specific to their needs so they are
equipped to be successful. The absence of educational resources paired with the instability
plaguing this population puts them at risk for unsuccessful transitions into adulthood.
Research shows that there is a sustained difference in academic achievement between
foster children and the general population. In fact, when comparing the two, foster children are
less likely to graduate from high school than the general population (Strolin-Goltzman,
Woodhouse, Suter, & Werrbach, 2016). There is statistical evidence which supports this claim,
but first let’s look at the population as a whole.
In 2017, more Americans have college degrees than ever before. According to research,
26 percent of Americans have just a high school diploma. An additional 21 percent have a
bachelor’s degree – 37 percent of Americans age 25-34 have obtained a bachelor’s degree – and
9.3 percent have a master’s degree. Racial discrepancies continue in education, however. While
37 percent of white Americans have a college degree, only 16.4 percent of Hispanic Americans
and 23 percent of African Americans have college degrees. Individuals achieving lower
academic benchmarks risk an average income much lower than those achieving higher
FOSTER CARE: FOSTERING FUTURE INSTABILITY
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benchmarks since higher levels of education have a strong correlation to higher average earnings.
Today the average income of an individual with only a high school education is $35,615, while
the average income of someone with a four-year college degree is $65,482. With master’s
degrees, doctoral degrees, and professional degrees the average income continues to increase
(Wilson, 2017). Foster care alumni are disadvantaged compared to the general population.
When it comes to education completion rates among foster care alumni, research shows
that there is a gap between academic achievements in this population versus the general
population. Studies have shown that while 80% of foster alumni do receive a high school
diploma or equivalent, only 16% of the population has an associate’s degree and 4% have a
bachelor’s degree (Courtney, M., Dworkey, A., Brown, A., Cary, C., Love, K., & Vorhies, V.,
2011). Education is extremely valuable, especially in terms of future success, which is why this
data regarding foster alumni is troubling. Education is important for everyone; however, it is
more important for foster youths if they are to succeed.
There are many reasons which support the importance of education for the general
population as well as foster children. When it comes to development for all children, education
plays a leading role. Attending school contributes to the development of values, beliefs, and
attitudes for children (Pretsch, Ehrhardt, Engl, Risch, Roth, Schumacher, & Schmitt, 2016).
Developing such attitudes and beliefs contribute to one’s desire to succeed in life and, therefore,
are extremely important to one’s development. Although the value of receiving education is
important to the success of all individuals, it is especially important for those in foster care.
Foster care alumni deal with many mental health repercussions after exiting the foster care
system. Many alumni do not achieve educational standards, such as graduating high school.
Furthermore, youth exiting foster care also tend to face higher unemployment rates than the
FOSTER CARE: FOSTERING FUTURE INSTABILITY
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general population (Harris, Jackson, O’Brien, & Pecora, 2009). The influence education has on
the foster cares population’s ability to succeed in their transition to adulthood can help to
alleviate these facts.
For foster children and youth, education is a key factor in determining their success or
failure in their transition from state care to adulthood due to the coping mechanisms one can
obtain through attending school. A strong educational foundation for foster children and youth is
crucial. Successful educational experiences for this population can have a positive impact on
their psychological functioning into adulthood (Strolin-Goltzman, Woodhouse, Suter, &
Werrbach, 2016). Since successful school experiences can have a positive impact on
psychological functioning into adulthood, such success would contribute to the ability of a child
to cope with their transition into adulthood – therefore, school holds a high level of influence on
their future. In addition to influencing positive psychological functioning, education also
provides children with protective factors which assist them in their transition into adulthood.
Educational experiences specific to children and youth in foster care are extremely
important. School presence provides the population with an opportunity to obtain and build
upon protective factors that help them to have a successful transition into adulthood. Examples
of protective factors include: social connections which assist in countering trauma-related issues,
growth in efficiency, and academic achievement (Strolin-Goltzman et al., 2016). An inability to
obtain such factors can lessen a foster child’s chance of future success. It is critical that foster
children obtain these protective factors prior to transitioning into adulthood, however, many of
these children face obstacles in their lives which cripple their ability to function properly in
school and in some cases, even attend school.
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Children and youth in foster care face more obstacles than the general population.
Obstacles they face in their daily lives impact their ability to attend school and properly function
while in school. Majority of high school aged foster care children have dreams of receiving and
achieving a higher education. This population faces many obstacles when striving to achieve this
goal. These obstacles include, but are not limited to, lack of supportive adults encouraging
higher education, insufficient financial resources and housing, lack of connection with resources
and services, and limited to no academic and school/career planning support. These obstacles
produce lower postsecondary enrollment and completion rates and a lower income for alumni of
the foster care system compared to the general population (Salazar, Roe, Ullrich, & Haggerty,
2016). The source of many of the issues faced by this population is the lack of stability in their
lives that is fostered by constant transitions to and from different placements.
It is not uncommon for many foster children to move frequently from one placement to
another — they are required to deal with not knowing if their life is going to be uprooted yet
again and if it does happen, they may fear the placement they end up in. On average, most foster
children remain in foster care for a period of 2 years before being adopted or reunited with their
birth family (Children’s Rights, 2017). Kathy, a foster care alumni, recalled how with each
change in placement, she feared what would come next – within six years she has been placed in
over 10 foster homes and at the age of 17 she dropped out of high school. Frequently, moving
from home to home, each with different strangers can be a source of tremendous anxiety for this
population (McClure, 2016). Regardless of how unsettling this may be for the child, it is not
uncommon for children to have been placed in 20 to 30 homes during their time in the program
(Children’s Rights, 2015). In addition to their fear of moving from home to home – more often
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than not – foster children will be separated from their siblings when they are placed in a home,
robbing them of any type of constant in their life.
School stability and the importance of a successful structured transition for foster
children can assist in the transition between home and school. Studies have proven there to be a
high correlation between school stability to a more positive learning environment, which fosters
academic success. In-home and classroom structure for foster children equates to a greater
amplitude to invest in their academics and take responsibility for their education. Research
shows that only 20% of foster children take the path of higher education to postsecondary school
and almost less than 5% obtain a four-year college degree (Strolin-Goltzman et al., 2016). This
instability is an issue in terms of education because it takes a toll on a student’s learning
development.
The instability associated with being a foster child has many academic repercussions.
According to research, 34 percent of seventeen to eighteen year olds experience five or more
school changes; additionally, foster children are two times more likely than children of the
general population to be absent from school. Such rates contribute to difficulties in the
classroom. According to the same research, the average reading level of a seventeen to eighteenyear-old foster child is at the seventh-grade level and children of the overall foster care
population are five times more likely to receive special education than students of the general
population (Pro Kids, 2017). While instability contributes to the above factors, it also
contributes to issues in their transition into adulthood by causing them to break social networks
and increasing their risk of experiencing injustice in school.
When it comes to maintaining social networks, educational stability is critical. In school,
foster children often form relationships with adults that become their source of encouragement
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(Lips, 2007). Since these mentoring or role model relationships with adults often serve as
encouragement for the population, these relationships foster educational resiliency. Educational
resiliency is the “heightened likelihood of school success despite adverse environmental
conditions, enhanced by family engagement and school relationships,” this related specifically to
a supportive adult’s presence in school – this can serve as a protective factor (Strolin-Goltzman
et al., 2016, p. 3). In fact, foster children with adult mentors have significantly better educational
outcomes than those who are not mentored. This is possibly because children with mentors felt
that they received help with prioritizing their education and receiving emotional support, both of
school reinforced educational success (Strolin-Goltzman et. al, 2016). The risk associated with
school enrollment issues and instability in school, can prevent a foster child from obtaining the
protective features previously discussed. In addition to causing children to lose their support
network, educational instability causes children to be put at greater risk of experiencing injustice
in school.
The experience of justice in school is crucial to children. This is because in school
justice fulfills extremely important functions such as teaching children they will be treated
equally in the future and it encourages them to treat others fairly as well. Additionally, these
experiences of in-school justice (or injustice) can influence the emotional experiences of a child
– i.e. well-being and their performance. Experiences of justice are most prevalent in school
because in such a setting, resources are continuously distributed. Deficiencies in in-school
justice can lead children to experience negative emotions. Such negative emotions include guilt,
depression, shame, or anger and may be accompanied by a decreased general and cognitive wellbeing in addition to behavioral reactions (Pretsch et al., 2016). Due to the educational instability,
many foster children experience throughout their time in the system, they’re at greater risk to
FOSTER CARE: FOSTERING FUTURE INSTABILITY
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perceive experiences as unjust. Such perceptions can interfere with their education due to the
negative emotions that accompany it which can lead to difficulty in the classroom. Due to higher
risks of instability associated with African American foster children, they are put at an even
higher risk of experiencing injustice.
There are many differences between children of color and white children entering the
foster care system. The majority of children in foster care are children of color, African
American children represent the largest proportion of the colored population. The African
American population in the foster care system not only remain in the system longer than children
of other ethnicities, they also enter and exit the system disproportionately compared to white
foster children (Harris et al., 2009). As previously discussed, stability is a key component to
academic success for any child. For foster children, this is a substantial issue. Since the highest
percentage of colored children in foster care are black, there is greater instability facing the
population and therefore they’re put at greater risk of experiencing injustice.
Discussion: An Evaluation of the Government’s Child Welfare Programs
The government spends billions of dollars every year on child welfare programs with the
objective to provide these children the opportunity to become productive members of society
contributing to the US economic system. The government has fallen short on its obligation to
provide effective social programs to help this segment of society that needs it the most. Instead
of becoming productive members of society contributing to the economic system, an inordinate
and unacceptable percentage of this population instead becomes a drain on the economy as they
remain beneficiaries of social welfare programs as adults.
The research discussing the lives of foster care alumni is unsettling. Between the ages of
18 to 21, depending on the state, is the time that young people are required to leave foster care or
FOSTER CARE: FOSTERING FUTURE INSTABILITY
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they “age out” – typically, this is about 25,000 per year (National Casa for Children, n.d.).
While the child welfare system typically succeeds in providing food, clothing and housing to this
population, the system fails to provide foster children with stability. This lack of stability causes
them to be unprepared for adulthood due to its interference in their education.
As noted above, the Federal Foster Care Program is provided with the funds to fulfill the
basic needs of children and youth in foster care, however, it fails to provide this population with
the proper educational resources to fulfill their unique educational needs. Such unique
educational needs are a result of obstacles this population faces. Placement instability is the
most common. Placement instability causes educational instability. Educational stability
improves the chances of a successful transition from state care and support to adulthood and
therefore puts them in the position to have a successful future; while educational instability does
the opposite. The United States is essentially a capitalistic society and therefore a successful
transition into adulthood is essential to fulfill the government’s role.
A strong educational background is extremely important for those aging out of foster care
due to the high risk that they will age out without a permanent home or the means. The risks
facing this population are very unsettling. According to research, 25% of foster alumni reported
that they became homeless two to four years after aging out. An additional 25% experience
PTSD, while only 4% of the general population does. The unemployment rate among this
population was 47% while 44% reported that they had been arrested, convicted of a crime or
incarcerated (National Casa for Children, n.d.). Could this be due to the lack in the quality of
their education during their time in the foster care system?
From the data provided, it becomes obvious that foster alumni undergo their transition
into adulthood without the knowledge, means, and skills to make it on their own. Instability in
FOSTER CARE: FOSTERING FUTURE INSTABILITY
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their education contributes to this issue. In a society that is fueled by self-interest and
individualism, the knowledge, means and skills needed to make it on your own are crucial to
one’s success – lacking such capabilities puts individuals at a disadvantage. Due to the way in
which capitalism restricts the disadvantaged, in a capitalistic society, it is almost impossible for
foster care alumni to be successful in the future.
Capitalism prevents the government from ensuring the well-being of the collective.
Capitalism is a social system that bases itself on its recognition of individual rights. Capitalism
is driven by capital, or money that’s invested into economic activities with the goal of making a
profit. According to Adam Smith, in such a society government only exists to protect the rights
of an individual and an invisible had maintains the market, not the government (Smith, 1969).
Those who promote capitalism claim that it promotes free will, however this is false.
Although capitalism claims to support free will, it creates such economic disparity that it
prevents those coming from an unprivileged background from becoming successful in the future.
Due to its tendency to produce instability, capitalism can contribute to the existence of financial
crisis and job insecurity. Moreover, capitalism fails to recognize and include the disadvantaged
(Colombia University, n.d.). Capitalists claim that in a capitalistic economy, anyone can be
successful with hard work. Furthermore, they contribute the lack of success for the
disadvantaged to their lack of wealth in the first place and their lack of motivation (American
Capitalism and its Affects, n.d.). Due to the way in which capitalism restricts the disadvantaged,
it is crucial that foster care alumni successfully transition into adulthood.
The Federal Foster Care Program is funded by the state and federal government. The
funding provided to the program fulfills the basic needs of the children and youth in foster care,
however it does not provide them with the educational resources unique to this population. For
FOSTER CARE: FOSTERING FUTURE INSTABILITY
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those aging out of the foster care system, education is crucial to their success in their
transition. Due to the prevalence of instability in the lives of this population, their education
suffers, causing them to not obtain the essential tools to successfully transition into
adulthood. In a capitalistic society, it is almost impossible for foster care alumni to be successful
in their future due to the way in which it restricts the disadvantaged. In the future, it is of utmost
importance that more attention is paid to evaluating services and support systems available to
this struggling population, such services and support should pertain to ensuring a successful
transition into adulthood. The Federal Foster Care Program fosters instability in the lives of
children and youth in the program and therefore diminishes their well-being and robs many of
the ability to have a successful future.
The government supports an enormous child welfare system, however, that support
comes up short in fulfilling its obligation to the foster care population to help them to become
productive members of society and contribute to our economic system. Extending that support
to include incremental funding for educational programs designed to address challenges unique
to this specific population would help the government to fulfill its obligation and realize its
objectives. This support is incremental but critical to ensuring that this vulnerable segment of
society is positioned to succeed for their sake and the sake of our society where the value could
be beyond measure.
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