While foster families can offer critical and timely emergency care for children in need, study after study shows that children who stay in foster care without permanent parents suffer lifelong emotional harm and life-skills underdevelopment. The extreme challenges faced by these children put them at risk for homelessness, human trafficking, unemployment, and even incarceration.
More than 20,000 young people aged-out of foster care in the United States in 2016—deprived of the support of their own or adoptive permanent families. In some countries in Europe, children, especially those of immigrant parents, are removed from their families because the parents “lack parenting skills.” These children in the United States and Europe are perhaps saved from an immediate emergency by government officials seeking to act in their best interest, but then exposed to the lifelong harm of not belonging to a functioning forever family.
What if these youths and their families of origin had been given the support they needed to stay together, such as mental health services, substance use treatment, in-home parenting skill training, and supportive community?
At this Helsinki Commission briefing, child protection policy experts discussed the social isolation factors that can make families vulnerable to crises, intervention strategies to prevent or shorten a child’s removal from the family, and the key features of the new Family First Prevention Services Act (P.L. 115-123), which is anticipated to prevent unnecessary removals of children from their parents when families can be kept safely together.