In the United States approximately 600,000 children spent 1995 in a child care facility (Tracy 5). If you think that 600,000 children is not that surprising a number, then it will not shock you that one in ten of those children will remain in the foster care system for longer than seven years. Is this a healthy environment for a child to live? Is this a fair situation to place the foster parent(s)? 75 percent of the children entering foster care are placed in Childrenís Services because one of their birth parents had alcohol and/or drug abuse problems (Tatara 1). As you will see foster care is emotionally and mentally stressful for both the foster parents and foster children, but Childrenís Services could make it easier on all parties involved.
Attachment is "an emotional tie that normally occurs between mother and child in response to consistent nurturing. . . Interruption in or the absence of emotional attachment can leave a child vulnerable, not only to physical harm, but to emotional malfunctioning throughout a life time" (Tracy 2). 71 percent of children are in the foster care system because of protective services reasons, or parental conditions (illness, death, or financial difficulty). This shows that these children have suffered from neglect, abuse, or loss, which resulted in a disorder known as Reactive Attachment Disorder prior to entering foster care (Tatara 1). Some of the signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder include withdrawn or overly needy behavior, chronic lying, and abnormal destructive behavior. The more frequently the care giver for the child is changed, the harder it will be to repair the damage already done to the childís sense of family/safety.
Attachment disorder can also lead to separation anxiety. The child is constantly worried that he is going to be moved again and as a result decides not to get attached to the foster family so that they do not have to deal with the separation yet again. The more the child is moved around, the more the foster child begins to create a wall around himself that does not allow others in. These children most likely lie to the foster family in order to keep their new ëfamilyí at a safe distance, and to provide the child with a sense that he is in control. This is a horrible way for a child to live the majority of their critical childhood years. The saddest part is that Childrenís Services is not doing all that it can do in order to prevent this from happening as often as it does.
As well as separation anxiety, many of the children in foster care suffer from loss anxiety. This could be because many of the children in foster care have lost their parents due to death or illness ( Tatara 1). During these traumatizing events, they are being shuffled around the system with no one to comfort them for their significant loss. They are lonely and hurting. Then, once they find someone to love again they are sent to another foster home. This endless circle of loss never ends for a child in foster care.
Along with this sense of loss their is the grief that goes along with the mental or physical loss of their parent. This grief must be handled effectively, and is obviously not being handled appropriately in the present system. "Children in foster care are three to six times more likely than children not in care to have emotional, behavioral and developmental problems including conduct disorders, depression, difficulties in school, and impaired social relationships" (Schor 1). Valuable time that the child could spend concentrating on their new family, school work, and making new friends is instead spent on grieving over the loss of their parent because they were never allowed to grieve appropriately. "Various studies have indicated that children and young people in foster care tend to have limited education and job skills; perform more poorly educationally than children who are not in foster care, lag behind in their education by at least one year, and have lower educational attainment than the general population" (HandsNet 1). Since this time period is a crucial time in the childís life they may experience some critical setbacks in social development. The signs of these setbacks could be stealing, hoarding food, baby talk, fits of rage, and most of all a hesitation to become emotionally close to another person (Tracy 3). I do not know if foster care could eliminate all of these symptoms, but with better foster care guidelines the child would possibly not have to suffer as much.
If foster children remain emotionally detached as children they are most likely going to be emotionally detached adults. "Unresolved, this sadness will manifest as depression, anger, inability to trust, and behaviors that continue to defeat emotional intimacy" (Tracy 4). How can these former foster children grow up to be loving and nurturing partners or parents? These children never learned what a nurturing, loving and secure household was like and, yet, they now will have to provide one for their family. Since, they will probably be incapable of doing this, therefor the circle of emotional disorder will continue to run its vicious cycle for generations to come.
The definition of foster is "to bring up: nurture. To encourage. Giving or receiving parental care though not related by blood or legal ties" (Webster 274). Although the definition of foster care is to "nurture", foster parents are many time not capable of demonstrating the emotional and mental care that the child desperately needs. This incapability is due to restrictions on foster parents roles which mandated by the Childrenís Services. Foster parents are constantly reminded not to get attached to their foster child because the child is only temporary and can be taken away from them at any time and for any reason (Tracy 4). These are the same parents that are constantly in contact with the child. The foster parents should not have to worry about the Childrenís Services taking the child away from them if they become too emotionally bonded. These children have deeply rooted problems and the foster parents are the ones who are emotionally and physically close to the child and could begin the healing process.
It is obvious that a permanent home with a loving, stable, and nurturing family is the optimal goal however, these children are usually in limbo between going back to their original home or waiting for their adoption process to begin. Even though foster care is only a temporary home for the foster child, that does not mean that the home should not be a stable and nurturing experience. Some of these children spend the majority of their life bouncing around from foster care home to foster care home. Considering that many of these children suffer from emotional disorders, attachment disorders, and loss anxiety the best solution would be to find permanent homes as soon as possible in order to solve these disorders. The next step would be for the foster parent to continuously be honest with the child (if old enough to understand) that the situation is temporary although they care greatly for them. Finally, the Childrenís Services must make attempts to stop shuffling these children around to different foster homes and, instead, keep them in the same semi-permanent, foster care home where they can have some sense that stability is possible in the home.
"Foster." Riverside Websterís II Dictionary. 1996.
Schor, E. The Health Care of Children in Out-of-Home Care." Washington, DC: Child Welfare League 1987.
Tatara, T. "Characteristics of Children in Substitute and Adoptive Care, Fiscal Year 1989." Washington, DC: American Public Welfare Association, 1993.
Tracy, M. "In Limbo the effect of Long-Term Foster Care on Children."
Online--Internet. 15 Apr. 1997. Available at:
This paper was prepared in 1997 for a colloquium facilitated by Stephen Wright, instructor for the Advocates for Children program, part of the College Park Scholars community at the University of Maryland, College Park.