Report: America’s “Hidden” Foster Care System has as many Children as the “Formal” Foster Care System

by Brian Shilhavy
Editor, Health Impact News

Josh Gupta-Kagan, a professor of law at the University of South Carolina School of Law, has just published a new report on “America’s Hidden Foster Care System.”

Professor Gupta-Kagan states that there are about as many children in this “hidden” foster care system as there are in the “formal” foster care system.

The “formal” U.S. foster care system currently has over 400,000 children in foster care, which means that in total there are potentially well over 800,000 children in the U.S. who have been removed from their parents. He reports:

In most states, child protection agencies induce parents to transfer physical custody of their children to kinship caregivers by threatening to place the children in foster care and bring them to family court.

Both the frequency of these actions – this Article establishes that they occur tens and likely hundreds of thousands of times annually – and their impact – they separate parents and children, sometimes permanently – resemble the formal foster care system.

But they are hidden from courts because agencies file no petition alleging abuse or neglect and from policymakers because agencies do not generally report these cases.

While informal custody changes can sometimes serve children’s and families’ interests by preventing state legal custody, this hidden foster care system raises multiple concerns, presciently raised in Supreme Court dicta in 1979.

State agencies infringe on parents’ and children’s fundamental right to family integrity with few meaningful due process checks. Agencies avoid legal requirements to make reasonable efforts to reunify parents and children, licensing requirements intended to ensure that kinship placements are safe, and requirements to pay foster care maintenance payments to kinship caregivers.

Professor Gupta-Kagan goes on to explain that recent changes in Congress, including the passing of the Family First Act, actually provides incentives for this “hidden” foster care system under the seemingly good practice of encouraging “kinship placement.”

Richard Wexler has written similar analyses of the Family First Act in the past. See: …. Read More

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