Associate Professor of Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University
- Children in foster care also have poor educational outcomes and work records.
- Children in foster care struggle with many problems throughout their lives, including mental health, physical health, high rates of homelessness, contact with the criminal justice system, and sex work as adolescents and young adults.
- Tensions are particularly pointed for Native Americans, who have been placed in foster care at higher rates than other children, and for African Americans, whose numbers exceed the number of available same-race foster homes.
In the article, “Somebody’s Children or Nobody’s Children? How the Sociological Perspective Could Enliven Research on Foster Care,” Wildeman and Waldfogel address the relative lack of research on children in foster care. While considerable research has examined the causes of child maltreatment and linked the risk of maltreatment with children’s characteristics (e.g., race, education, socioeconomic status, gender, disability) and neighborhoods’ characteristics, research on the causes of foster care placement is more limited. Because children are supposed to be placed in foster care because of severe maltreatment, the authors speculate that the best predictors of foster care placement are the severity and chronicity of maltreatment, as well as the factors that drive the maltreatment; research confirms this, with many of the factors that spur maltreatment of children (e.g., parents’ substance use and abuse) driving the risk of placement in foster care. In their review, the authors focus on four rigorous studies on the effect of foster care placement on children, finding inconsistent results. They conclude by calling for attention to the research designs of sociological studies. They also argue that a sociological perspective can enliven the dialogue around adoption, broaden discussion about the processes that influence the intergenerational transmission of social exclusion and disadvantage, and provide insight into the effect of foster care on inequality.