Reasons Children Enter the Foster Care System

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There are several hundred thousand children within the foster care system in the United States alone. What happens within a family that a court decides that a child must enter the foster care system?

Why Children Wind up in Foster Care

There are several reasons why children enter foster care. Many homes have more than one of the following issues and a child enters the foster care system for numerous reasons.

  • Physical Abuse: Probably one of the first reasons to enter our minds when we consider why a child enters foster care. Physical abuse usually means to the extreme, where bruising is left on a child and numerous attempts to help a family learn alternative means of discipline have failed. Each State or Country determines how physical abuse is defined. Physical abuse may also mean restraining a child or placing him in a locked in a closet or other space.
  • Sexual Abuse: This can mean several different things as sexual abuse is often thought about on a continuum of acts with the viewing of pornographic material or viewing of sex acts on one end of the continuum to fondling and penetration on the other.
  • Neglect: Neglect encompasses several areas, including the child's need for food, a clean living environment, or emotional needs. It is extremely difficult to prove emotional abuse but it is often a part of the physical or sexual abuse.
  • Medical Neglect: Sometimes a birth parent's choice to not seek medical attention stems from religious beliefs, but there are other times when a child's medical needs are neglected due to pure thoughtlessness.
  • Incarceration: A child may be placed into foster care when there are no family or friends available to care for the child during a parent's incarceration in prison or jail.
  • Abandonment: Children may also enter foster care when their parents have dropped them off at a sitter's and never returned, or left the children home alone for extended periods of time.
  • Truancy: Truancy does impact younger children at times when parents have not ensured that the children make it to school regularly.
  • Death: Though rare, as there is usually family available to care for a child after the death of a parent, there have been cases when children do enter foster care after the death of a parent.
  • Voluntarily Placed: Another rare occurrence, due to the child's behavior or a parent's health, some parents have privately placed their children into foster care.

We often think of the parent's shortcomings when a child enters foster care, but there are times when a child's choices mean a child must be placed into the foster care system.

When a Child Must Be Placed in Foster Care

  • Juvenile Offender: A child that has been adjudicated a juvenile offender by the court system after a series of scrapes with law enforcement. Sometimes the child's choice to break the law means the child may find himself within the foster care system, especially if there are issues within the home and the parents are unable to properly manage the child's behavior.
  • Runaways: Some children engage in dangerous running away behavior that parents find difficult to manage alone.
  • Truancy: Another child behavior that may lead to the child's need to be placed into the foster care system is that of chronically skipping school.
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