Updated Jul 5, 2022 - Politics & Policy

End of Roe v. Wade may overwhelm foster care systems

Alexandra Rubio holds a sign that reads, "I've been in foster care for 1,015 days" while sitting on the steps of a Massachusetts courthouse before her adoption proceedings.
Alexandra Rubio sits on the steps of a Massachusetts courthouse after her adoption proceedings in 2015. Photo: Joanne Rathe/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Underfunded and overstressed foster care systems are bracing for new pressures if the overturning of Roe v. Wade sends more children their way.

Why it matters: About 424,000 children in foster care on any given day already face shortages of placements, low high school graduation rates, and disproportionately high rates of incarceration and homelessness. Without new funding and accountability, these problems may only get worse.

Zoom in: Child welfare advocates say they're concerned about a growing foster care-to-prison pipeline.

What they're saying: "We're really concerned that this could blow it up," Mariah Craven of the National Foster Youth Institute told Axios.

  • Children may end up in foster care because parents can't afford to keep them or aren't able to safely care for them. Some women forced to bring a pregnancy to term may not give the child up for adoption at birth but be forced to later.
  • "The answer isn't, 'Oh, well, we just now need 400,000 loving couples to adopt them,'" Craven said. "This is far more complicated than that."

Background: Surges in drug addiction by biological parents have prompted foster care systems struggling with capacity issues to place children into emergency shelters, hotels, out-of-state institutions and youth prisons.

  • Some foster children in Virginia have slept in state government offices due to a shortage of foster homes and other permanent housing.
  • Marc Smith, the director of Illinois’ Department of Children and Family Services, faced a ninth contempt charge in April for failing to comply with court orders around settings for placements.
  • Texas' system has been under intense scrutiny including for facilities facing sexual abuse allegations.

By the numbers: The average placement of children in state care is longer than a year and a half, and 5% of children in foster care are there for five or more years, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Data shows just one in five children from urban areas and an even smaller share of rural foster youth have access to a computer. About 5% go to college after leaving the system.

The other side: Abortion foes say the post-Roe world is a chance for religious-based groups to build an infrastructure to facilitate more adoptions or help biological parents through faith.

  • Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed (subscription) that a network of centers helps mothers through pregnancy, and programs like Jonah’s Journey and Together for Good provide free volunteer foster care.
  • "Building this child- and family-support infrastructure is no small endeavor. But it is a worthy one," Medefind wrote.

The bottom line: Abortion services in states like Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama have been limited for years and religious-based groups have barely made a dent in foster care system problems.

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