How Does Foster Care Affect Children's Lives?

By Sheryl Faber

Updated September 26, 2017

Sad boy

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Children in foster care face many challenges 1. Dealing with the unknown, torn from surroundings they are familiar with, cared for by strangers and coping with the uncertainty of whether they will ever be reunited with their families are only a few of the issues these children must deal with. The experiences they have while in the foster care system will have lasting influences on them.

Lack of Trust

Many children in foster care lose their ability to trust. As young children, they depended on their parents to be there for them and when that doesn't happen, they might lose their ability to trust caregivers and others in charge of their care. They might react with excessive crying, sadness, withdrawal or depression.

Failure to Attach

Children in the foster care might not be able to form attachments to other caregivers and their foster families. According to a report from the University of Iowa titled "The Effects of Foster Care Placement on Your Children's Mental Health," the "out-of-home placement is typically associated with numerous disruptions in attachment relationships 1. These losses and lack of permanence undermine a child’s attempt to form a secure attachment with a primary caregiver." Later in life, they might have difficulty establishing lasting and committed relationships with friends or significant others.

Lower Academic Achievement and Lack of Educational Resources

Children who grow up in foster care do not always get the education that they need to support themselves effectively. Transferred several times over the course of their care, sporadic attendance and lack of structure all contribute to a lower education level for some of these children. According to a Princeton University study of former foster children, "More than half of the young people who responded reported that they did not feel prepared to support themselves after leaving foster care, and an equal number were not satisfied with the quality of education received while in foster care."

Lack of Preparation for Adulthood

When foster children age out of the foster care system at age 18, many find themselves ill-prepared to care for themselves. Lacking job skills, contacts, a family support system and basic communication skills, they might be set up for failure. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that "up to 50 percent of former foster or probation youth end up homeless within the first year and a half of their emancipation." Foster children might not have the encouragement and support of caring adults in their formative years that is necessary to prepare them for life in the real world.