Foster care is a temporary living situation for children whose biological parents or primary caregivers cannot care for them during a time of crisis. When family struggles are brought to the attention of a child welfare agency and the court system determines there is a serious safety concern, children are placed with relatives, with foster families or, when needed, in a residential treatment center.
The main goal of foster care is to reunite children with their biological parents or primary caregivers once it is safe to do so. For example, if the parents of a child are suffering from addiction or a substance use disorder, the child may enter foster care while the parents seek help from professionals. Once the parents are successfully in recovery, their children may then return home at the discretion of the courts and the child welfare agency assisting the family.
Nearly 425,000 children are in foster care in the United States, and the average length of time a child is in foster care is around one year. More than half of children in foster care are safely reunited with their biological parents or primary caregivers; most do not re-enter foster care as the conflicts or disruptions that caused them to enter foster care have been addressed. About one-quarter of children are adopted by a relative or by their foster parents.
Tragically, some young adults in foster care between ages 18 to 21, depending on state laws, age out of foster care. This is because they were not able to be safely reunified or adopted before they reach the foster care age limit. In these cases, the child welfare agency provides assistance with independent living services, helps with finding college tuition assistance and scholarships, and provides the young adult with available resources.
Reasons Why Children Enter Foster Care Nationwide
Child Abuse and/or Neglect
Most of the children and teens in foster care have experienced child abuse or neglect in some capacity. Each state determines how physical, sexual and emotional abuse are defined, and youth enter foster care if it meets these criteria. Neglect can include physical neglect, medical neglect or lack of supervision. Physical neglect includes but is not limited to failure to provide the child with food, clothing or shelter necessary to sustain the life or health of the child.
A child may enter foster care when no family or friends are available to care for the child during a parent’s incarceration.
A child may enter foster care if they have been left at home for an extended period of time or have been dropped off at another residence.
Though other factors can cause a child or teen to enter foster care, these are the most common. In the West Virginia foster care system, more than 7,000 children and teens are currently in foster care. You can help by becoming a foster parent, volunteering, donating or educating others in your community. If you’d like to know more about foster care, click here to download The 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions About Foster Parenting.