In the United States in 2015, 427,910 children were in foster care, an institution meant to care for children whose parents are temporarily or permanently unable to do so. A 2013 Child Welfare Outcomes Report found that more than 98% of those children were, in fact, well-treated. However, some sources suggest that the number is much higher. In 2015, a judge in Texas oversaw a case regarding abuse in foster care. In his conclusion he wrote: ” Texas’s [foster care] children have been shuttled throughout a system where rape, abuse, psychotropic medication, and instability are the norm.” As a method of reform, many have turned to privatization of foster care–having private companies find foster homes for children. However, is this truly a solution? Some are claiming that privatization only increases children’s risk of abuse.
Through her studies, Fulton Conference Political Science winner Mandi Eatough found by privatizing foster care, these children do have an increased risk of neglect or abuse. She said: “It’s much easier to think about policy and government work in terms of whether it’s “good government” or “good for the economy.” However, I believe it’s far more important to consider these policies based on the impact they have on our lives. I hope that legislators and foster care workers alike will consider the implications of the foster care system on the children in it. ”
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway: “As a reform strategy, many state and local public child welfare agencies have contracted with private agencies [for] some of their services. Some child welfare systems have implemented performance contracting, in which contracted agencies are paid based on their achievements of agreed-to outcomes.”
“There are two main theories about foster care privatization policies,” explains Mandi. “The first is that privatization is preferable because of an increase in efficiency and a decrease in cost of foster care placements. The second claims that this increase in time and economic efficiency creates pressure on social workers to place children faster, leading to a decrease in the quality of the placement.”
What she found through her study corroborated this. She discovered that:
- Changes in foster care policy often have an immediate effect on the children in the foster care system.
- Children placed by privatized agencies are more likely to have case goals that are more efficient and less costly.
- Children in privatized foster care systems are at a greater risk of experiencing abuse or neglect than their non-privatized counterparts.
Mandi has plans to publish the paper and reexamine her data and in order to better understand foster care. Of her experience with the Fulton Conference, she said: “The Fulton Conference was an amazing opportunity to both share my own work and see the work of other students in the college. The part of the Fulton Conference that stood out to me the most was the fact that every student at the conference had been given the opportunity to work on mentored research with a faculty member. Being able to work so closely with faculty in my department on research I care about has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my undergraduate education.”