Essay on Effects of Foster Care Systems on Child Development

Published: 2021/12/28
Number of words: 1793


Did you know that hundreds of thousands of children are under the Foster Care System (FCS)in the United States of America? According to an article published by, the FCS had 438 000 children in their systems in 2019. The FCS is a practice well-rooted in the history of the US as it began in the mid-19th century, 1853 (Adoption. Org, 2019) and evolved over the years to the system widely known today. The system entails the involvement of Child Protective Services to investigate a suspected case of neglect, abandonment, or abuse of a child by parents or guardians. Based on the investigation findings by Child Protective Service, a social worker decides whether to place the child into the FCS, under the care of the parents or guardian, or kinship care. When the child is in the FCS, the parents work to complete the services that would eventually allow their child to come back home, which is a crucial objective of the system. However, the reunification of a child and his/her parents can only take place after twelve months of the child being in the FCS and after a court hearing (Adoption. Org, 2019). In the cases where reunification is not possible, the child becomes legible for adoption.

While in the FCS, the child lives with the foster family, attends school, and accesses medical care and social services. The social worker assigned to the child does a routine check to ensure that the child is well taken care of by his/her foster family. The foster family receives a monthly subsidy of Medicaid, free school lunch and breakfast programs, SNAP, and WIC. Families interested in fostering a child must undergo foster care education training (Adoption. Org, 2019). Despite the measures put in place by both the Child Protective Service and Social workers, FCS affects the development of children in the system in various ways. Wade et al. (2019) assert that placement in the FCS remediates several challenges during childhood, including difficulties with memory and executive functioning. This paper discusses the various ways through which the placement of a child into the FCS may impact their development and growth.

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Body Introduction

To achieve the objective of discussing the effects of the FCS on child development, this paper analyses three articles addressing the subject matter. These three articles address the effects of the foster system on children’s development from various perspectives. One addresses the outcomes expected after growing up in the system. The other talks about the social-emotional implications of being in the system, while the other tackles several effects, including how the system impacts foster children physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially.

Effects of foster care system on child development

Written and published by Adoption.Org, this article highlights several impacts of FCS on the development of children in the system. Children in the FCS many experience challenges in their mental, physical, emotional, social, spiritual, or moral development (Adoption.Org, 2018). Children in the FCS have a history of experiencing traumatic events such as not knowing where they would sleep or get their next meal. They live in fear of police offers, their parents in cases of abuse, and even strangers. After joining the FCS, where the child does not have to worry about where to sleep or what to eat, these fears do not simply go away as a change of scenery cannot take away the mental health issues of a child (adoption.Org, 2018).

Children in foster care are most likely to lag behind their peers in physical development due to being overweight, underweight, or below average minimal body height. The lagging behind itself is because of the previous challenges the child experienced before joining the FCS, such as exposure to substance abuse or developmental delays like epilepsy, autism, and down syndrome. The foster family will try its best to provide food security and all necessary needs required for the child to develop, but it takes a while before a visible change, mainly because, as mentioned above, the child’s fears do not fade away. Additionally, Children in FCS have emotional needs that children growing up in regular families do not have due to their biological parents’ physical and emotional absence. The children develop coping mechanisms such as food hoarding, constant crying, or head-banging, making them look different, especially when compared to others. The foster parents can only try to be present emotionally and physically, but due to the absence of the biological parents, these children grow up lacking the necessary emotional connection. Due to the delayed physical and emotional delays, foster care children tend to have delayed social development. As a result, they hang out with children younger than them.

Social-emotional functioning issues

As mentioned above, children in the FCS tend to develop several development problems. Jacobsen et al. (2020) assert that one of the many risks that foster children are at the risk of is the development of social-emotional functioning challenges, with the underlying factors being possible neglect or abuse by parents or guardians prior to the placement into the FCS. Jacobsen et al. (2020) conducted a study to establish the risk of foster children developing social-emotional functioning challenges at eight years. The study focuses on three aspects of social-emotional functioning: internalizing, externalizing, and total problem behaviour. Foster mothers, foster fathers, and teachers caring for foster children are the primary participants of the study, where they report on the progress and observable traits of the children under their care. The study is over a long period and in three phases. The first occurs when the foster children are two years of age, then three years of age and the last occurs when the foster children are eight years of age.

The foster mothers, fathers, and teachers reported that foster children had poorer social-emotional functioning, which they expressed through total problem behaviour, externalizing, and internalizing when they were eight years of age than children growing up in the general population (Jacobsen et al., 2020). The study’s findings concur with previous studies that argue that children growing up in the FCS show more mental health problems and externalizing tendencies than children growing up in the general population. These social-emotional issues affect the children and foster family as they affect the building of long-lasting relationships leading to placement breakdown, especially in the foster care system. Lastly, the study also established that social-emotional functioning in early childhood is a reliable predictor of the same tendencies occurring in middle school, which calls for the need to investigate the problem in early childhood to help overcome them social-emotional problems.

Foster Alumni Outcomes

Growing up in the FCS affects the future of foster children. Gypen et al. (2017) investigate the outcome of children living in the foster system to adulthood. The outcomes investigated include education, employment, mental health, criminality, substance use, housing, and wages. The study is quite extensive as it reviews 32 original quantitative studies, comparing the results of the studies. Results of the study indicate that children leaving the foster system and transition to adulthood are less successful in all the areas investigated (education, employment, mental health, criminality, substance use, housing, and wages) than children growing up in the general population.

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The theoretical model employed in the study is the Bronfenbrenner model, which holds that the diverse environmental contexts to which one is exposed across their life course influence their developmental outcomes. The theory suggests that a child is most likely to be shaped by the environment they grow up in, hence influencing their success as adults. The environmental factors include personal and cultural interactions (Gypen et al., 2020). The study argues that Bronfenbrenner proves that the foster care environment is most likely to influence foster children’s success once they become adults. The results show that children growing up in foster care homes and families are less successful than children growing up in typical families. An article posted by the encyclopaedia of early childhood development asserts that a young child’s emotional, social and physical development is linearly related to the overall development and adult the child would be upon growing up. Therefore, based on Gypen et al.’s finding, one can say that foster care children are exposed to an environment that derails or deteriorate their emotional, physical, and social life during their development period.


While the article by Adoption.Org addresses several effects of FCS on children’s development, including emotional, physical, social, mental, and spiritual challenges, Jacobsen et al. (2020) only focus on social-emotional functioning problems associated with the foster care system. Gypen et al. (2017), on the other hand, focus on addressing faster care system alumni outcomes after they exit the system and transition to adulthood. Gypen et al. (2017) argue that foster care alumni success rate in a vast range of areas is significantly lower than that of children who grew up in the general population or typical families and relied on the Bronfenbrenner theory to show that the reduced success rate relates directly to the environment they grew up meaning that growing up in the foster system affects one success in the future. As mentioned above, the reduced rates of success are directly related to emotional, social, and physical challenges one experiences in foster care homes. Based on the above articles, the foster care system affects foster children, adversely impacting their emotional, physical, social, mental, spiritual wellbeing, which may have far-reaching consequences stretching to one’s adult life. Therefore, there is a need to identify these challenges in the foster care system and put in the right and appropriate measures to remedy them.


Adoption.Org. (2019). How Does the Foster System Work in the USA?

Adoption.Org. (2018). How Does Foster Care Affect a Child’s Development?

Encyclopaedia of Early Child Development. (n.d.). Importance of early child development

Gypen, L., Vanderfaeillie, J., De Maeyer, S., Belenger, L., & Van Holen, F. (2017). Outcomes of children who grew up in foster care: Systematic-review. Children and Youth Services Review76, 74-83.

Jacobsen, H., Bergsund, H. B., Wentzel-Larsen, T., Smith, L., & Moe, V. (2020). Foster children are at risk for developing problems in social-emotional functioning: A follow-up study at 8 years of age. Children and Youth Services Review108, 104603.

Wade, M., Fox, N. A., Zeanah, C. H., & Nelson, C. A. (2019). Long-term effects of institutional rearing, foster care, and brain activity on memory and executive functioning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences116(5), 1808-1813.

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