A Brief Overview of Foster Care Reform

by Stephanie Hauer



The foster care system has great intentions, but the lived experiences of the children placed in its care often do not measure up to the goals the system is intended to meet. The system is struggling. It is overwhelmed, facing a limited capacity in the face of great need, and a myriad of other challenges. The foster care system as it stands today is in need of reform; activists and advocates have been working hard for years to enact positive changes.

A great deal of that effort contributed to an executive order signed by President Trump in 2020. This order seeks to improve the child welfare system across the country. The changes being implemented can be grouped into four main categories of goals.

  1. Strengthen partnerships between state agencies and other foster care or adoption agencies, such as private organizations, so that overall capacity can increase.

  2. Gather more comprehensive data, so that we can develop community-based services and identify potential foster and adoptive families more effectively.

  3. Provide better resources for children and families in the foster care system, including financial help through funding and grants, trauma-informed training, support for kinship care where possible, and better options for young people who are exiting the foster care system.

  4. Improve oversight by the federal government of child welfare requirements. This includes facilitating the use of federal funds to provide quality legal representation for both children and parents.

Some concerns have been raised about the strategies included in the executive order; there are also concerns that the order opens the door to discrimination by partnered organizations. But many of the goals, such as recruiting more families as foster families, and offering more trauma-informed training, are steps in the right direction.

The work toward foster care reform is not yet over. Even as these new federal requirements are being implemented, other problems pervade the foster care system. There are plenty of bills being considered in various states that seek to remedy some of those problems. For example, in California, a bill that is up for a vote would require two weeks’ advance notice before changing a child’s placement. It would also extend the limit on foster care from 21 years of age up to 25. Similarly, in New Mexico, a bill has been proposed that would provide financial aid opportunities to foster youth between the ages of 18 and 21. And in Kentucky, a new bill may require caseworkers to go to school with the foster parents and child on their first day, to help ensure that the child gets access to whatever academic programs or assistance they may need.

Several nonprofits continue to advocate on behalf of the children in the welfare system and the families, both biological and foster, who care for them. For instance, Children’s Rights is an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of children, including those in the foster care system. They focus on investigation, advocacy, and legal action to hold governments accountable on every level. Meanwhile, CHAMPS is a national campaign that draws on the knowledge and experience of a wide variety of stakeholders to improve policy and provide quality care to children in foster placements.

Foster care has the ability to do meaningful good for the families who need it. By enacting policy reform where needed, we can strengthen the system and equip the people involved to provide stability, healing, and opportunities for everyone.


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