Social Inequality of Children in Foster Care


In this paper, the researcher endeavors to probe the classic theories and perspectives of social inequalities faced by children in the foster care system. The paper takes a closer look at how the foster care system influences the life chances of the children under care. The researcher examines such questions as to whether the foster care system abridges the phenomenon of social inequality of children that grew up in it. The writing of this paper has clear objectives as follows.

The first objective is to comprehend the history of the foster care system and to understand the contemporary phenomenon of the foster care system. Then it will scrutinize the theories related to inequalities of children in the foster care system. The next step is to analyze the aspects of social inequalities of children growing up in the foster care system and related issues. It will finally summarize the findings of the investigation and present abstract, complex concepts in clear prose that how the analysis of the phenomenon brought new insight.

Social phenomenon/issue of concern

The process of placing the children out of their own homes is referred to as ‘fostering’. It is full-time substitute care either permanent or temporary. Legal guardianship of the foster child will remain to the state agency. In the Old Testament, The caring of needy children was considered a duty under the law. The churches used to pay the widows for taking care of the poor children. In the 1500s, English law allowed poor children to place in families other than their own on the agreement.

The foundation of the modern foster care system in the USA was first started in New York City. Charles Loring Brace, a minister was the pioneer to develop the system of placing out the children. In 1853, he founded the Children’s Aid Society to help poor children. Later in the 1900s, social agencies took over the responsibility of paying and supervising foster parents.

Later Ms. Alice Chapin, wife of Dr. Henry Dwight Chapin, who was the founder of Speed Well Society, established “Alice Chapin Nursery”, the first specialized adoption agency in 1910. (A tale of two pediatricians, John B. Reinhart, MD, Page 1166, PEDIATRICS Vol. 112 No. 5 November 2003, Official Journal of the American Society of Pediatrics).

Placing the children in the Foster care system provides emotional security other than in institutional care. In the 19th century statistics showed that children under foster care outnumbered the children under institutional care. Henry Chapin’s conviction “a poor home is often better than a good institution” attracted the attention of child welfare and public health professionals. He circulated statistics showing the orphanage will render an inoperative environment for the healthy development of the children under care. Only in the 1980s The Child psychology and developmental information began to change the philosophy behind the foster homes to consider the needs of the children beyond their physical health and housing.

The inequality that encompasses every facet of American society inevitably finds its position within the foster care system also. The factors influencing social equality are many like the socio-economic status, education, gender, Nationality, occupational prestige, ethnic class, race, ancestry/ heritage (“Breed”), physical appearance, religion, marriage, decision-making capacity, mobility (freedom of movement), Access to basic amenities and awareness of welfare schemes, participation in the political process, access to mass media, etc. The future of a person is primarily predicted by social status.

The needs of foster children are not well preserved either in their own family or in the foster family. They encounter various psychological and emotional problems during the process of fostering. Further, the plight of African American mixed-race, older, developmentally delayed, physically challenged, and other hard-to-place children are embarrassing. The child is placed in the foster care system immediately after the neglect or abuse or the child is being perceived as at risk of getting abused.

The majority of the children under foster care are under the age of four. Children of African American and American Indian couples comprise the majority of the foster care population in the USA. The reasons for children to go for foster care are many. A study report published in pediatrics established that the primary cause for the removal of children from their biological parents was neglect (30%). Other causes consist of physical abuse (25%), Unavailability of caretakers (24%), Sexual abuse (30%), etc.

Recently more than 800,000 children are under foster care in the USA. (Adamec & Pierce, 2000). Placement instability is one of the major disabling factors which impact continuity of care. As well, they are vulnerable to disorders like reactive attachment disorder which lead to separation anxiety due to the lack of emotional tie and frequent change of caregivers.

The classic problem arises when the children move out of the foster care system on maturity. Very few teenagers are provided employment opportunities by the guardian agencies. They face challenges financially, emotionally, and developmentally.. Studies show that a small number of children complete high school; many of them have no jobs and no homes. Only one aged out in five is mentally healthy and employed. The rates of arrests, health problems, and welfare dependency of the ‘aged out’ foster children are higher than their counterparts.

These children are more vulnerable to become antisocial. This leads to the stigmatization of foster children and further paves the way to discrimination and social inequality. The foster youth exhibit significant resistance out of the foster care system to become healthy and productive adults. They are more vulnerable to substance abuse and involved with the criminal justice system. They have a lower level of educational attainment and most of them experience unemployment and homelessness.

Theory in foster children

The child psychology theory that can be applied to foster children is called attachment theory. “The concepts derived from attachment theory have been widely embraced by those who work in child welfare as they offer a framework for understanding the developmental importance of close relationships.” (Why is attachment theory important to those who work with children? Page 1, Centre for Parenting & Research). The British psychologist John Bowl first introduced this concept during the middle of the twentieth century.

This theory is about the relationship that a child is likely to form with his caregiver, which in this case will be the people in the foster care system. The theory says that it is ultimately how the caregiver responds to the child’s need for attention and love that will show the level of attachment between them. It is mutual in the sense that the child must initiate or reciprocate the need for attachment. This attachment depending on its strength and health will be a decisive factor in the personality of the child as he grows into adulthood.

The research by Mary Ainsworth classified children after a study and classified children depending on their behavior after a period of separation (from parents) and subsequent reunion. (Separation and reunion were a part of the study). They are the secure group and two insecure groups namely avoidant and ambivalent or resistant. A fourth group was later added to denote those who could not be classed in either of the above groups. Whatever may be the classification, the attachment levels are low or negative between caregivers and foster children as indicated by the finding given in section two.

Analysis and interpretation

Children live poles apart in the present social system. Some enjoy high-quality care and protection. In contrast, some fight against painful hardships. Social stratification on the basis of age, gender, social class, etc. molds the lives of many children under the system of foster care. The problems faced by the foster children hit the highest point when they go out of the system. Most of the children under foster care lack their own home or relatives. They are vulnerable to various types of psychological and social diseases. They feel lonely and insecure. Most of them do not provide secure employment which again disables the future of the children.

Analysis # 1: The foster care system has been changed in the present century

A study by the Adoption History Project on fostering and foster care establishes that the foster care system has confronted problems like substance abuse, AIDS, and other adult epidemics that trickle down to children. Foster children drift from one placement to the next, and approximately 20,000 “age out” of the system each year.”

The Foster care system started centuries before. In the beginning, caring for dependent children was supposed to be a duty of society. Later in New York, Charles Loring Brace initiated the system of caring for the children away from their biological parents according to the demonstrated needs of the children. He identified several families who can take care of the children in their homes. This idea made a revolution in child care.

Later in the nineteenth century, other legal and government agencies took over the responsibility of taking care of such children. The need for foster care increased in an alarming way. The government provides funds for fostering these children even then; the number of volunteer foster parents is reduced subsequently. At present, more than 800,000 children are under foster care in the USA. And another half of children are awaiting foster parents.

Analysis # 2 foster care system abridge the phenomenon of social inequality of children that grew up in it

Henry Chapin, A social Reformer assured by showing statistics of orphanages that literally sickened and killed alarming numbers of children “a poor home is often better than a good institution”

Recent statistics support the statement of Henry Chapin. The Foster care system conserves the psychological needs of the children than an institutional care setting. The children will get individualized care and support from the foster family. Statistics say that foster children outnumbered the number of children under institutional care. Another point of discussion includes the children with physical and mental challenges. They fall short of finding a foster parent.

Analysis # 3: Inequalities faced by the children in and out of the foster care system affects the life chances of the children

A classic study on the life chances of foster children states that “Social inequality harmed the life chances of children as well as being linked to a range of health, development and educational problems. Another study by Harman et al. states that “the children in the foster care system are as much as 10 times more likely to have mental health problems than other Medicaid eligible children.” (Results, Jeffrey S. Harman, Ph.D.; George E. Childs, BA; Kelly J. Kelleher, MD, MPH, Page 1114, Mental Health Care Utilization and Expenditures by Children in Foster Care, Journal of Pediatrics and adolescent medicine, VOL 154, NOV 2000).

Despite the fact that the United States is considered as having one of the highest standards of living in the world, the social inequalities on the basis of age, gender, social status, ethnicity, race, etc are crucial problems in the community. Income and wealth are highly concentrated in a small segment of the society and poverty remain to be a problem for many. The social security administration warns that by the year 2030, twenty-five million American children will be under the poverty line.

In the US most of the wealth is inherited and the children under foster care did not have any hereditary wealth. The psychological trauma of separation from the family and siblings puts the children into trouble which adversely affects their physical and psychological well-being. These children are vulnerable to attachment disorders and exhibit severe emotional disturbances. These factors together adversely affect the mainstreaming of foster children.

The “aged out” children encounter several social issues related to homelessness, unemployment, poverty, etc. They are vulnerable to drug abuse, teen parenting, and involvement in the criminal justice system, and so on. The attitude of society towards foster children affects the placement of the children in the present social system.

Summary and Conclusion

The focus of this paper was on the core issues of social inequality of children in the foster care system. In the analysis and interpretation section, the researcher elucidated three classic issues of foster care. The section surpasses the issues of foster care to life chances of the children under care, Physical and psychological problems faced by the children, and the inequalities faced by them. The section discusses the growing concerns about the safety, well-being, and health of children under foster care. The history of the foster care system is aged beyond Christ. The Old Testament considered caring for needy children is the duty of society.

Churches paid for the care of abandoned children. The modern foster care system comes into existence in the nineteenth century only. The study exposed that the children under foster care are vulnerable to psychological and social problems. The foster care system has not only an effect on the health and well-being of the children but also determines the placement of the children in the present social system. Most of the foster parents fail to fulfill the emotional needs of the children under care which in turn, leads to unhealthy development. However, the foster care system is the best substitute for institutional care where the children run short of individual care and attachment. The foster care system helps the child to grow in a healthy environment than orphanages.

Specialized efforts to reduce social inequalities like discrimination must be made to meet the special needs of foster children under care and also to the children ‘ages out’ from the system. Adolescence is a vital life stage in the development of children. It is the stage where the child begins to realize their identity, their position in the social stratum, and their own empowerment. Special care is needed at this stage of development to support and uphold healthy development. They need help in setting up healthy relationships and acquiring life skills training that assists them in the transition to adulthood.


Adamec, Christine., & Pierce, William. (2000). Encyclopedia of adoption: Reason for placement in foster care. Adoption. Web.

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