The Crisis in the Foster System – Part 2

The Crisis in the Foster System – Part 2

Part 1 of this 2-part series addressed the lack of foster homes available, the turnover among foster families, and the need for more frontline workers. The following will discuss poverty and mental health.


Poverty has a detrimental effect both on those children who are entering and those who are leaving (aging out of) the foster system. On the entry side, Douglas Bersharov of the University of Maryland estimates that 85% of families investigated by Child Protective Services are 200% below the poverty line (7). And once they have aged out, 65% of former foster youth have an annual income below the poverty line at age 23 (6).

“Poverty is not supposed to be a cause for reporting child welfare cases, but when children lack food, are often sick, or repeatedly act out (which may be due to hunger, lack of sleep due to homelessness, etc.) it can attract the attention of child welfare agencies.” (2) Once an incident is reported, it is required that the child welfare agencies respond.

This begs the question: is it possible that often kids aren’t being properly fed, clothed, or housed because of poverty rather than neglect? Consider that children who come from economically unstable situations are “more likely to live in substandard housing and unsafe neighborhoods” (3)

One former foster child stated, “Poverty is not neglect. Just because you’re born into poverty doesn’t mean you have to be taken in by the system and chewed back out into poverty as an adult” (6).

Maybe it is time to consider alternative solutions to removing a child from their home due to “neglect” that is just poverty. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “when families are given cash assistance, their risk for child welfare involvement is reduced.” Is this a potential answer?

Foster parents are given a stipend to help with expenses for the children placed in their care. Could that stipend be given to parents when poverty is the primary problem?

Mental Health

As mentioned in part 1 of this article, every child who spends time in the child welfare system experiences some level of trauma. Being pulled from one’s home – regardless of the cause or the amount of time – may result in the need for the child to receive counseling. Due to lack of access, children are not always able to receive this necessary care. Not every counselor accepts Medicaid insurance, and the waitlist can be long for those who do.

When a child does receive access to mental health care, the result is not always positive. It is estimated that 50% of children and youth in foster care are 2.5 times more likely to develop mental health disorders compared to kids not in the child welfare systems. The same children are diagnosed with behavioral issues 5 times as often as their counterparts who do not experience foster care (4).

While not every case is misdiagnosed, it does happen, and kids are being prescribed medications they don’t necessarily need. A study published by Citizens Commission on Human Rights International (CCHR) revealed that 35% of kids in the foster system who are covered by Medicare are prescribed psychotropic drugs. This number is 4 times higher than non-foster children under Medicare who are prescribed the same drugs (5).

Sonya Muhammad is a retired counselor with Los Angeles County Office of Education and Foster Youth Services. She says, “I would say 75% of my caseload were on some type of drug. It was about restraining them, a chemical restraint. The main goal was to shut the child up and shut the child down” (5).

CCHR says there is an urgent need for increased oversight and accountability.


The foster system is broken. Children are hurting and in need. But they need more than our sympathy. They need us to do something. They need us to step in and step up. Everyone can do something.

Maybe you are not called to be foster parent, or caseworker, advocate, or mentor. That’s okay. But how about stepping in to provide a meal for a foster family or offer to babysit for them? Maybe you prefer to offer something like cutting grass or servicing their cars.

Maybe you aren’t able to give your time, but you have other resources to offer. Could you provide the funding to allow an aging-out youth to take a career assessment? Do you have furniture you could give to a newly aged out youth who is moving into their first new apartment? Could you provide gift cards for meals or supplies for foster families or aging out kids?

Our callings are all different. That’s how God designed us. It takes each of us doing our part to solve the problems we come across in our lives.

We ask that you pray about what your role is in serving the foster community. If you want more ideas, contact us. We would love to talk with you about how you can help.



  1. Sutherland, Paige, Meghna Chakrabarti, and Tim Skoog. “Inside America.” July 20, 2023.
  2. Shrivastava, Aditi, and Urvi Patel. “Research Reinforces: Providing Cash to Families in Poverty …” May 1, 2023.
  3. Miles, Tim. “The Readers.” September 20, 2023.
  4. Papovich, Caitlin. “Trauma & Children in Foster Care: A Comprehensive Overview …” July 10, 2019.
  5. “Study Reveals Foster Children 4x More Likely to Get Psychotropic Drugs.” August 10, 2023.
  6. “The Cost of Being Poor: Entering Foster Care and Losing Hope.” n.d. Accessed October 25, 2023.
  7. “The Failures and Future of the U.S. Foster Care System – The Policy …” n.d. Accessed October 25, 2023.
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