When the courts remove a child from his/her parents due to abuse or neglect, the child welfare system places that child in a foster care home, preferably with relatives. When a safe environment can't be found among relatives, children enter non-kin foster homes or group homes. The long-term goal is safe reunification with parents or another permanent plan, such as adoption.
Due to their maltreatment, children often enter the foster care system with medical, behavioral, and/or emotional problems. Children removed from their homes may feel socially isolated and depressed, and these problems can be exacerbated when children move from one foster setting to another. Foster children are more likely to do poorly in school and have physical and mental health problems. They are at risk for behavioral problems, drug and alcohol use, and delinquency.
The challenge is especially acute for those who age out of the system, usually at age 18. While some of these young adults go on to lead successful lives, evidence suggests that others face serious challenges. According to research, these youth are at higher risk of homelessness, substance abuse, emotional difficulties, involvement with the legal system, and lower educational and career attainment. Some of these challenges may stem from a history of abuse and neglect, and the lack of a support system to aid in the transition to adulthood.