Essay Writing Samples

Comparative Essay on Foster Care vs. Orphanages and Adoption

Prior to the 1940s, the term “foster care” was used to describe various types of living situations where children were raised by caregivers or adoptive parents. The term stood in contrast to orphanages, in which large numbers of parentless children were cared for collectively.

Foster Care vs. Orphanages and Adoption

This sample essay will discuss foster care and how foster care was pioneered during the mid-1800s by child-rescue advocate Charles Loring Brace, who founded the New York Children’s Aid Society and organized the first orphan trains, which transported more than 200,000 children from slums on the east coast to families in the Midwest between 1854 and 1929 (Hall).

Foster care catches on

By the turn of the century, more than 1,000 orphanages were in operation across the U.S., most of which featured substandard, unsanitary living conditions (Critchlow). As word got out about this situation, a growing number of child care advocates began vocally campaigning to have orphanages replaced with foster care throughout the country. Spearheading this movement was New York pediatrician Henry Dwight Chapin, who publicized alarming statistics of disease and death within the facilities that housed orphans.

In 1910, Henry’s wife—working under the motto that poor homes are better than rich institutions—founded the Alice Chapin Nursery: one of the first agencies in the country to specialize in pairing prospective parents with orphaned children.

In the decades that followed, the terminology of foster care remained unchanged—the kids in these arrangements were known as foster children—though the actual arrangements constituting foster care varied a great deal. Foster parents, as these new adoptive couples were called, accepted orphaned children into their homes on a variety of terms.

In some cases, the child worked a job to earn his or her room and board inside an adoptive home. Many children placed into foster homes had their living expenses paid for by agencies, though some were taken in by more affluent parents who didn’t need assistance. Some of these arrangements were temporary, while others lasted until the child reached adulthood.

Foster care takes over as orphanages decline

By the 1950s, more children were being placed in foster homes than orphanages; within a decade, foster care accounted for more than twice as many child placements. In 1977, the nationwide foster figure peaked at 503,000 (Jost). Through that number halved during the early 1980s, it has been back on the rise ever since. Today, foster care has been the leading option throughout the country for children who can’t stay with their birth parents, whether due to financial or domestic problems.

The placement of children in foster care would often last for many years—if not into adulthood—though many such arrangements were temporary in theory because the child would still keep contact with his or her biological parents. As foster care grew in popularity, however, its loose definition sparked a tightening on the adoption front, where policies were instituted to make the adoption process more secure and permanent. Some of these new policies included the selection of small children instead of tweens and teens, as well as the sealing of records pertaining to a child’s birth parents. Unlike foster care, adoption was intended to make children full-fledged members of new families.

The New Deal is a boon to foster care in the U.S.

Between the Great Depression and the aftermath of WWII, progress was made on the federal front that further distinguished foster care from adoption. As New Deal programs were initiated to redress the imbalance of wealth in the U.S., child care agencies campaigned for more public services that would account for the needs of children that were hard to place, such as racial minority, mixed-race, disabled, and developmentally challenged youth.

One of the first programs of this order was Aid to Dependent Children, which gave parents of limited financial resources a third option that didn’t involve sending their kids to orphanages or giving them up permanently. By the 1960s, foster care was inserted into the program, which had been expanded and renamed Aid to Families With Dependent Children. This led to the rapid increase of children being placed in foster homes throughout the country.

Foster care vs. adoption during the late 20th century

Over the last 70 years, foster care and adoption have been largely split along financial and racial lines. Asian, Hispanic, and African American children—long neglected under the old child care system—made up large shares of the growing number of youth placed in foster homes during the late 20th century. Minorities also comprised a large number of foster parents, many of whom were given state compensation for bringing children into their homes.

Financially, foster parents were better off than the youth they took in, though generally not as affluent as adoptive parents. Foster parents were also required to stay in touch with the child’s relatives and report regularly to agency officials, and thereby lacked the autonomy of adoptive and natural parents.

Adoptive parents, by contrast, were typically of middle and upper-income households. Once a couple adopted a child, they were given full custody and were not required to stay in contact with placement agencies. Adoption, in essence, was a permanent process, which meant that adoptive parents—unlike foster care providers—had all the authority of natural parents.

This also meant that children were stripped of contact from all blood relatives, which could be an emotionally complicated process if a child was beyond toddler age. Therefore, adoptive parents generally chose children of an early, moldable age who would be too young to remember the changeover once they hit maturity.

Hard-to-place foster children

In some cases, a child’s odyssey would begin with foster care and proceed to adoption. Due to the complications involved with voiding the rights of natural parents, the majority of children put through this process were in the special needs category. Unlike adoptees, foster kids were older and therefore more developed in their sense of relation to other people: namely blood and foster relatives.

Many of these foster kids had previously experienced trauma stemming from separations with loved ones, as well as assorted physical and mental illnesses. As such, these kids had marks against them in the eyes of many prospective adopters, all of which made it hard and costly for agencies to place such kids into welcoming homes. As the 1970s drew near, agencies had all but given up on seeking out would-be adopters for children that didn’t fit into the ideal adoptee category. However, adoptions of minority children by white couples increased during the post-Civil Rights period.

Government subsidies for child care

In 1965, the state of New York began subsidizing adoptive parents. The move—which was ultimately backed on a federal level by the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980—was taken to incentivize the adoptions of hard-to-place children (“P.L. 96–272”). Incentivized adoption was implemented in part to redress the prejudices that often played into the adoption process.

Additionally, the move sought to lower the financial barrier of prospective adopters, who had faced increasing hurdles in a world of rising inflation and stagnating wages. With the costs of raising children—especially those with medical conditions—only getting steeper, and the number of children in need of adoption getting higher, subsidies opened the floodgates for a wider range of adoptions.

For a brief time, it seemed as though the gap between adoption and foster care was narrowing, but a 1977 U.S. Supreme Court decision made those hopes vanish. In Smith v. Organization of Foster Families for Equality and Reform (OFFER), the court ruled that since foster parents are created by the state through subsidization, they don’t have the same protections as adoptive or natural parents (Derdeyn). Therefore, children in a foster setting could be removed at any time, regardless of whatever bonds might form—for however long—between foster kids and parents.

Hardships in foster care

Over the past 30 years, a string of epidemics—AIDS, hard drugs, shootings—have beset the services instituted to help kids in need of foster care. Consequently, untold numbers of children get shuffled from one place to another within the foster care system, while roughly 20,000 youth age out from qualifying on an annual basis.

According to 2010 statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau, 408,425 youth were in foster care throughout the country (“Foster Care Statistics 2010”). Of these children:

  • 48% were under the foster care of non-relatives
  • 26% were under the foster care of relatives
  • 9% had been placed in institutional care
  • 6% had been placed in group homes
  • 5% were visiting their birth homes on a trial basis
  • 4% were currently placed in pre-adoptive homes
  • 2% had become runaways
  • 1% were living semi-autonomously

Foster care since the Clinton era

As part of a national effort to redress recent issues plaguing foster youth, the Adoption Safe Families Act (ASFA) was enacted in 1997. In addition to slashing the length of time that prospective adoptees are held in foster care, the new law makes it obligatory for state agencies to separate children and birth parents permanently in cases where the child’s physical or emotional safety could be at risk.

Supporters of the law have argued that prior to ASFA, children were often held up in foster care for years without receiving permanent placements. Within a decade of the law’s passage, the daily number of children lingering in foster care had dropped by nearly 7,000 (“Reducing the number”).

In 1999, Congress passed the Foster Care Independence Act, which helps young people adjust to the adult world once they age out of the foster care system. Additionally, aging out foster youth can also apply for the Education and Training Voucher Program, which the federal government initiated to provide free or low-cost job training and college.

Policies like these—as well as the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, which addresses the needs of Native American children, foster siblings, and youth in the 18–21 age bracket—reflect an ongoing commitment to helping young people find care, support, and security in an often malevolent world.

Works Cited

Hall, Emily M. “Brace, Charles Loring (1826-1890).” Philanthropy in America: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1. Ed. Dwight F. Burlingame. Santa Barbara, Calif.: AC-CLIO, Inc., 2004. 55-56. Print.

Critchlow, Donald T., and Philip R. VanderMeer. “Social Policy: Orphanages.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Political and Legal History, Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. 255. Print.

Jost, Kenneth. “Foster Care Crisis.” CQ Press. SAGE Publications. 27 Sept. 1991. Web. 31 Aug. 2015.

“P.L. 96–272, Approved June 17, 1980 (94 Stat. 500).” Compilation of the Social Security Laws. Social Security Administration. n.d. Web. 31 Aug. 2015.

Derdeyn, Andre P. “Foster Parent Adoption: The Legal Framework.” The Psychology of Adoption. Eds. David M. Brodzinsky and Marshall D. Schechter. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990. 339. Print.

“Foster Care Statistics 2010.” Child Welfare Information Gateway. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau, 2012. PDF file.

“Reducing the number of children in the U.S. foster care system.” Social Justice Unit. Uniting Care: Children, Young People and Families, 2011. PDF file.

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