Why We Do it
THE COSTS ARE HIGH
In the United States, over 650,000 children spend time being raised within the child welfare system each year. In addition to the traumatic impact on each of these children, the cost to society is staggering. According to the Center for Disease Control, the United States spends $129 billion dollars a year on the treatment and care of the children in the foster care system.
It’s not uncommon for a child who has been in the foster care system for 5-10 years to have 20-50 foster home placements, each placement representing an unsuccessful match. The direct cost for each of these young people ranges from $150,000-$250,000 per year in placement services, not including the costs of courts, social workers, medications, or healthcare.
Despite its price tag, the current system is remarkably ineffective. In 2012, more than 23,000 youth “aged out” of the foster care system without a permanent family. The social costs of the public assistance, incarceration, and lost wages over the lifetime of the young adults who “age out” are estimated to be $8 billion each year.
Our current system is designed to keep our children from physical harm but often causes psychological harm, and the full impact of childhood trauma is not being solved using the current outdated interventions.
It is time for a new approach. Together we can do better.
The current system was founded to keep children--who had already experienced abuse or neglect--physically safe from danger, without consideration of children’s needs for psychological and emotional protection. We now know that children who are separated from their families and caregivers suffer from compounded trauma, and without first addressing this grief and loss, children cannot heal.
The current child welfare system is not designed with the understanding of the ways in which trauma impacts children’s behavior and functioning, or with the tools to address it. Children do not “talk” their grief, they “do” their grief, creating considerable challenges with how to address their pain-based behaviors.
Unsupported children and young people are particularly to cope with major traumas. They often lack the developmental skills to process or articulate their grief on their own. Instead, they act out, often through aggression, and get stuck in a vicious cycle: withdrawing emotionally or having violent outbursts, which drive away potential support. This loss and loneliness then further compounds the trauma. Over time, young people lose the ability to connect with and trust others.