The Correlation Between Being a Foster Child and Future Deviant Behavior

There is a high, positive correlation between being a foster child and future deviant behavior.

By: Jojo Camp
“[S]tudies have found a substantial proportion of youth who exit foster or group care experience negative outcomes such as poor mental health or incarceration”. (From placement to prison: The path to adolescent incarceration from child welfare supervised foster or group care, Richard P. Barth, 2000). Because 70% of the countrywide prison population of 7.3 million adults who are incarcerated or on probation/parole once were in foster care, it is easy to identify a causal correlation between former foster or group care and deviant behavior.

Additionally, according to CPS (Child Protective Services) Watch Inc. , and cited studies conducted by Casey Family Programs National Center for Resource Family Support:
A recent study has found that 12-18 months after leaving foster care: 27% of the males and 10% of the females had been incarcerated…

Sociologist argue effectively that society is to “blame”, for deviant behavior among this class of individuals, drawing from areas of influence such as poverty, lower-socioeconomic culture, poor health, lack of education, severe housing problems, substance abuse, and criminal behavior, to name a few. (Richard P. Bart[h], Ph.D. 1990). It would be remiss for someone to blame the individual child since it becomes the State’s responsibility to provide services to the child to assist that child with learning social norms. Because the State often does not succeed in meeting this responsibility, one could argue that a particular subset of society – the System – is particularly responsible for the deviant behavior of foster children, for. If a child is unaware and never taught that stealing to get money for food, stealing clothing, selling narcotics for survival are against social norms, and laws, then society cannot expect that child to be conscious of this fact when that child promotes his or herself to more serious actions that have a larger profit margin, in the future.

Ironically, the battle to teach foster children moral behavior is often lost in the very first stages of their initiation into foster care. Our Judicial System, here in the United States, is responsible for determining whether or not an child is to be removed from biological parents and placed into the care of the State -as a Ward of the State - to provide for the needs of that child, (42 USCS § 622). In addition to the initial placing of the child, the Judicial System is responsible for determining the length of time that is “appropriate” based on the circumstances of each case. Unfortunately, there is a "perverse financial incentive” to place and retain children in foster care rather than leave them with their parents, and incentives are sometimes set up for maximum intervention. A National Coalition for Child Protection Reform issue paper states "children often are removed from their families `prematurely or unnecessarily' because federal aid formulas give states `a strong financial incentive' to do so rather than provide services to keep families together.” ( keyword: “Foster Care”, April 14, 2009).

Subsequently during the age of “innocence”, instead of the child learning the necessary tools to ensure survival within the context of societal norms, the child learns that the individuals who are employed by the State who are supposed to help that child, are actually committing crimes themselves, and therefore, the only conclusion that any child would be able to conclude is that the wrongful behaviors demonstrated by the persons who are supposed to be the epitome of leadership and protection are “just and proper”. The child, at an early age, is exposed to the workings of greed and lust for money, and, by being used as a tool to achieve wrongful ends, comes to see his or herself as inferior, inhuman, or livestock. It is difficult to aspire to high moral values when one perceives society, and, indeed themselves, as low on the scales that matter.

The needless removal of children is referred to as "defensive social work." It would appear that the unconscionable practice of removing a child to protect a career, or to prevent liability is quite common. Therefore, the child’s subjective well-being is diminished tremendously by actions, in response to false accusations – actions that are intended to protect the finances of the State, rather than to actually protect the child. Douglas J. Besharov explains:

The dynamic is simple enough to understand: negative media publicity and a lawsuit are always possible if the child is subsequently killed or injured; but there will be no critical publicity if it turns out that intervention was unneeded, and much less chance of a lawsuit. Joanne Selinske, formerly director of the American Public Welfare Association's child abuse project, characterized this approach as the "’better safe than sorry' attitude that permeates the child protection system.” (Douglas J. Besharov, The Vulnerable Social Worker: Liability for Serving Children and Families, (Silver Spring, MD: National Association of Social Workers, 1985) p. 136; Citing Joanne Selinske, "Protecting CPS Clients and Workers," Public Welfare, 41 (Summer 1983) p. 31.)

It is not a far stretch to assume that the child will witness or become cognizant of these illicit actions and become affected by them in some form or another. Thus, when a former foster child matures to the point where he or she is capable of making and implementing actions on her or his own, the child may have no training except the negatively reinforced classical conditioning that began brainwashing that child at the point where that child first observed the corruptness of the Foster Care and Judicial systems. As a result, the child reverts to experience and observation, and acts according to what the child has seen.

It is important to note that flawed moral values may not only stem from what the child did see, but from what the child thinks that he or she saw. It is the responsibility of the so-called professional social workers to understand that the child will not always observe what may be happening in a way that the social worker does. The child who is clueless as to the workings of the judicial system cannot be blamed for “errors” in his or her observations. However, the State does little to assist the child in understanding what is going on, but, rather, the State, in its attempt to remain impartial, purposely remains distant, apparently oblivious to the deep-seated and long-term impacts of a child’s basing his or her understanding on incorrect observations. Unfortunately, the child’s negative observations are often painfully accurate, helping to set the stage for the remainder of their stay in foster care.
Longitudinal studies have attempted to study conduct, with respect to educational funding, employment and vocational training, as well as training for life skills and norms, with the intent to determine what occurs when a child ages out of foster care. According to CPS Watch Inc. , and cited studies conducted by Casey Family Programs National Center for Resource Family Support:

There are more than half a million children and youth in the U.S. foster care system, a 90% increase since 1987. Three of 10 of the nation’s homeless are former foster children. A recent study has found that 12-18 months after leaving foster care: 27% of the males and 10% of the females had been incarcerated 33% were receiving public assistance 37% had not finished high school 50% were unemployed.

Children in foster care are three to six times more likely than children not in care to have emotional, behavioral and developmental problems, including conduct disorders, depression, difficulties in school and impaired social relationships. Some experts estimate that about 30% of the children in care have marked or severe emotional problems. Various studies have indicated that children and young people in foster care tend to have limited education and job skills, perform poorly in school compared to children who are not in foster care, lag behind in their education by at least one year, and have lower educational attainment than the general population.

What specific flaw in the System is to blame for these disappointing statistics? The answer could be reduced to, simply, the lack of healthy and enduring parents. Even children raised in healthy households are not always prepared to live on their own, without some type of care from a parent or guardian. Indeed, children who grew up with their biological parents often will continue to live with them into their adulthood, or alternatively, maintain deep roots with their parents’ household for support. They will check back in for help in meeting life’s requirements , such as food or laundry, understanding, dealing with emergencies, the celebration of religious traditions (literally, this list of possible needs could be limitless). Unfortunately, this repeated touch with home-base is usually not available to foster youth, once they have turned the age required by law to be released from custody:

Approximately 20,000 youth age out of foster care each year. With the exception of incarcerated youth, foster youth are the only group that is involuntarily separated from their families through government intervention. Although the primary purpose of this separation is to protect youth from harm by their caregivers, in removing them from their homes the state nevertheless assumes the responsibilities associated with parenting, including preparing them for independence. Although the state works to reunite children with their families, such reunions are not always possible. At the end of the day, then, it is government, acting as a parent, which decides when these 20,000 foster youth are ready to be on their own. (Youth Aging Out of Foster Care, Mark Courtney, April 2005, Issue 19)

The government typically decides that foster children are ready to be on their own by the time they are somewhere between the ages of 18 and 21. How many children from normal families are ready for a complete break with their former caregivers by the age of 18 or 21? The likely hood that foster children ready for this break is even less than that of normal children, who were treated with love and respect during their entire lives.

Another long term study (What Happens to Foster Kids: Educational Experiences of a Random Sample of Foster Care Youth and a Matched Group of Non-Foster Care Youth. Wendy Whiting Blome, November, 2004) was conducted with the intent to determine what occurs when a child ages out of foster care, with respect to educational funding, employment and vocational training, as well as training for life skills and norms. Blome states that older youth typically age out, at the age of 18 or 21 – varying by state - with little attention paid to that child’s readiness with respect to education, employment training, life training and/or understanding of societal norms. It would be preposterous for someone to expect that anyone so ill-equipped, let alone a child, to be able to habilitate to the regime of day to day responsibility. Typically a foster child will have a stigma that will stick with them throughout their entire life making it even more difficult for them to obtain this knowledge on their own, especially when that stigma becomes self ingrained. Such sigma could be the negative interaction with persons of authority, or the label of being a “unwanted” child, or coming from “bad blood”.

In conjunction with the incarceration statistics, another notable problem that is prevalent in former foster children is the diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Most children with Reactive Attachment Disorder have had severe problems or disruptions in their early relationships. Many have been physically or emotionally abused or neglected. Some have experienced inadequate care in an institutional setting or other out-of-home placement (for example a hospital, residential program, foster care or orphanage). Others have had multiple or traumatic losses or changes in their primary caregiver. The exact cause of Reactive Attachment Disorder is not known. (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry; Reactive Attachment disorder. No.85, updated May 2008)

Attachment refers to a set of behaviors and inferred emotions that can be observed in infants, as well as adolescents and older adults. Humans need attachments with others for their psychological and emotional development as well as for their survival. A foster child is often moved from place to place, home to home, school to school. This consistent moving prevents any positive attachments that a child should normally have. Often this lack of attachment can lead to many ailments and even psychopathic behaviors in adulthood. This relatively common diagnosis in former foster children would be easier to eliminate if the State would choice to spend the thousands of dollars that they spend on placements and group home settings on permanent placements with suitable, non abusive families.

If the theory tendered at the beginning of this paper is true – that the prospect of financial gain motivates the System to retain a child in foster care – one is forced to ask why the State then drops ill-equipped young people from the foster care system so abruptly. The State appears to be manufacturing homeless deviants, who are more likely to cost the State a great deal more, via welfare programs and/or incarceration, than would have been expended, had the children been adequately prepared for adult life while in foster care. Once again, however, the answer may lie in greed. Those who work the System providing Social Services to needy people are in a business that requires needy people on which to feed.

There are also great monetary gains that are possible for the State - and towns where the prisons are located- with each individual that is incarcerated. (Census Bureau’s Counting of Prisoners Benefits Some Rural Voting Districts, The New York Times, Sam Roberts, October 23, 2008). According to this study, key parts of the State system and the towns hosting prison facilities have an obvious financial need for people to be incarcerated. There is no better population on which the incarceration racket to feed on than poor youth who cannot afford an attorney, who have no “contacts” because if they did they would likely not be in foster care, and who have no networks, nor education to help them be exonerated for false accusations. It must be reiterated that a staggering 70% of the population of the prisons countrywide consists of one time foster youth.

While a lot of attention has been focused on the fault of the State, it would not prudent to relieve the former foster child from all responsibility for their lives. Certainly, the child has a responsibility to him or herself to make sure that she or he does not fall into this “trap”. While many former foster youth can legitimately use the excuse that they were “dealt a bad hand”, there is a time when this excuse becomes a hindrance to upward mobility. Dr. Barbara A. Reynolds describes in her book, Out of Hell & Living Well (1999-2006 Xulon Press; Salem Publishing), her own experiences with many ailments of an addictive nature, and with a very poor and unforgiving background and environment while growing up. Fortunately, she had a desire to overcome extreme obstacles in her way. She escaped the “poor me” attitude and built herself up from a pit.

One could argue from the examples of Dr. Reynolds and other former foster children that have succeeded that there is no reason that any former foster child should not be able to pursue and achieve the American Dream. However, statistics such as those included in this paper bear sad witness to the difficulties most former foster children have in making their good dreams come true. Foster-youths’ successes could be increased if the State would not just shelter the youth until they age out, but actually prepare them with adequate life-skills, and then continue to foster them through their early adulthood. Until that happens, the likelihood that the population of former foster children in prison will dramatically decrease is extremely low.


~Joey Camp for President of the United States, 2020.