May is foster care awareness month. This is a cause that is close to my heart for personal reasons, and it is also a topic of great economic and policy significance to our state and to Glynn County.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau, 442,995 children were in foster care in the U.S. on Sept. 30, 2017.
The nonprofit group Fostering Court Improvement reports that in FY 2018, 21,297 children were served in foster care in Georgia, 196 of whom were in care in Glynn County.
In that same year, the Georgia Department of Human Services Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) reported having spent an average of over $16,500 on out-of-home care for each child in foster care. That’s over $3.2 million state dollars spent on foster care in Glynn County. And these numbers do not include things like child care assistance, medical expenses, and adoption services often provided to foster children.
Clearly, foster care is a significant part of our state budget. But, the price we pay when children are removed from their homes by DFCS is far greater than the numbers easily identified as a line on a budget.
Children are taken into state custody when their homes are deemed unsafe. Thus, most children in foster care experienced some sort of trauma — physical, sexual, psychological abuse or neglect — before coming into care, and for all children, the experience of being removed from the people and places that are familiar to them is itself traumatic.
A 2012 study by Fang, et al., found that the estimated average lifetime cost per victim of non-fatal childhood trauma is $210,012, the largest part of which is over $144,000 in lost productivity due to lasting physical and psychological effects of the trauma.
The bad news is that children will always be exposed to hard situations, and we will always bear part of the cost of their trauma. The good news is that we can take steps to minimize the cost.
First, we can help reduce the risk of children being brought into foster care due to circumstances outside a family’s control. One of the greatest tragedies of foster care is when children are removed to state custody because of poverty. Poverty does not equal poor parenting, but it can lead to unsafe environments and removal of children from families.
Glynn County has a unique system through which we can keep this from happening. Local nonprofit Hope 1312 Collective recently established a Care Portal, through which local churches are able to partner with DFCS to help meet physical needs of local families before the situation is so dire that children must be removed. This is huge!
For example, a few weeks ago I responded to a Care Portal request and purchased $100 of formula so a mother could feed her infant. My $100 investment has the potential to spare a child the trauma of removal and to save our community over $210,000 in lifetime cost of trauma. That’s what an economist would call a good investment. (Google Hope 1312 Collective for more on how you can connect with the Care Portal.)
Second, when we cannot prevent a child’s removal, we can work to minimize the trauma experienced once that child has come into foster care. If you have an extra bedroom, become a foster parent. Provide the love and stability a child needs in this otherwise turbulent season of life. If you cannot become a foster parent, support one. As our community rallies around foster children and those who are caring for them, the wounds of trauma heal, and the return on our investment is great.