New Research Analyzes the Effects of Foster Care on Children’s Well-Being

New research, published in April analyzes the effectiveness of the foster care system in Michigan.[1] In what is perhaps a surprising result, children who enter the foster care system are better off than their peers who remain with their parents.

A recent study showed that 6% of all American children spend some amount of time in the foster care system. That number is much higher for children of color: 10% of Black children enter the foster care system at some point in their childhood, and 15% of Native American children enter the system at some point.[2]

Economists have been studying foster care outcomes since 2007. Previous research studied foster care outcomes from Illinois and found that foster care hurt children more than leaving children in the home.[3] That study looked at children on the margin – those who were on the boundary between being removed from the home and staying with parents – to show that those who were removed from the home were convicted of crimes at higher rates, and had lower long-term incomes.

This study uses the same research design in Michigan, and suggests the opposite result: these authors found that foster care reduced the likelihood that children were alleged to be victims of abuse by 52%, increased daily school attendance by 6%, and a small decrease in findings of juvenile delinquency.

So why is Michigan so different from Illinois? These authors suggest that Illinois’ foster care system was especially harmful, so rather than foster care in general harming children, Illinois’ implementation of foster care was to blame. As evidence, they show that Illinois children spent the longest amount of time in the system in the country, while Michigan is closer to average.

Another possible explanation is that foster care has simply improved over time. The authors cite to a child trends study which shows that children are now spending less time in the system, and are being placed with family members more often.[4]

What does this mean for those interested in child policy? It’s not quite clear. Hopefully, research like this will prompt other states to look at their own foster care programs to see if they are more like Illinois or Michigan. We know that removing a child from the home is a drastic measure that should only be taken when absolutely necessary. Nothing here suggests that more children should enter foster care, only that in this particular jurisdiction, it is effective for the child on the bubble between removal and remaining in the home.

My takeaway is this: good foster care that helps children is possible. It might look like shorter stays in the system and more placements with family members. It definitely looks like states should be analyzing their foster care systems with the most advanced tools possible, like the ones these economists employed.


[1] Max Gross & E. Jason Baron, Temporary Stays and Persistent Gains: The Causal Effects of Foster Care, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 14(2): 170–199 (2022).

[2] Emanuel Wildeman, Cumulative Risks of Foster Care Placement by Age 18 for U.S. Children, 2000–2011, PLoS ONE 9(3): e92785 (2014).

[3] Joseph J. Doyle, Jr., Child Protection and Child Outcomes: Measuring the Effects of Foster Care, American Economic Review 97 (5): 1583-1610 (2007) (“the results suggest that children on the margin of placement tend to have better outcomes when they remain at home, especially older children.”).

[4] Child Trends, Child Trends Databank, https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/foster-care.

Weekly Roundup

Rampant Human Rights Violations of Children Internationally

On October 31, 2017, the United Security Council met to discuss their deep concern for international abuse of children. The Council said that it is “gravely concerned by the scale and severity” of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed against children in some countries, including terrorism, mass abductions, and sexual slavery, which can cause displacement and affect access to education and healthcare services. You can read more about the Council meeting here. Attached was a report that chronicles the high number of child casualties in Afghanistan. Additionally, 50 children have already been killed in Jamaica this calendar year and you can read more about that here. These human rights violations don’t just stop with homicide, as lack of access to education is another disheartening disparity. You can read about the President of Tanzania banning pregnant girls from school here.

Surrogate Mother wins Custody Battle for Biological Son

In Perris, California, surrogate Jessica Allen gave birth to two healthy children she believed to be twins. It turned out that one of those babies was actually her biological child. This happened as a result of what is called superfetation, and it occurs when a woman continues to ovulate after becoming pregnant, resulting in two babies with different gestational ages and, in this case, two different sets of genetic parents. This only happens in 1 in several million pregnancies. Allen reported that after a complicated process, she and her husband Wardell Jasper got custody of their son in February. You can read more about this medical marvel and custody battle here.

States in the U.S. Seek to End Child Marriage

Though many U.S. officials are critical of child marriage abroad, we are guilty of allowing the exact same practice right in our own backyard. In 25 states in the United States there are no minimum age requirements to wed, while in the others, the age requirement ranges from 13-17 years old. Child marriage correlates with domestic violence, psychiatric disorders, dropping out of high-school, poverty and financial instability, and early stress that leads to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. That is exactly why Human Rights Watch has launched a campaign to support a bill that could potentially end child marriage in Florida. As it stands now, pregnant girls in Florida can get married at any age if a judge approves it. You can learn more about child marriage in the U.S. here.

Weekly Roundup

Abbott signs House Bill 3859 into law

Governor Abbott recently signed a House bill that allows religious adoption agencies to reject applications from same-sex couples. Proponents of the bill argue that it will help to keep adoption agencies from leaving the state, but opponents believe this will make the foster care crisis even worse by excluding not only same-sex couples but also members of certain non-Christian religions. Sarah Kate Ellis, the president of GLAAD, said, “As a mother, it saddens me that a child can now be denied the chance to live with a loving family in Texas.” This law means that children in Texas now have fewer options for getting adopted, and these organizations have more opportunities to discriminate against the LGBTQIA community. Read more here.

Michelle Carter found guilty in texting assisted-suicide case

Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter on June 16, 2017 after sending numerous text messages to her boyfriend encouraging his death by suicide back in 2014. Massachusetts, the state where Carter lives, does not have a law on the books against assisted suicide. Yet, Carter now faces up to 20 years in prison. This verdict potentially sets a dangerous precedent for words alone constituting murder charges. “This is a killing in which the murder weapon was words, and that is an incredibly broad view of causation and an incredibly broad view of the manslaughter laws in Massachusetts and creates serious concerns about expanding criminal law without doing so through the legislature,” ACLU Massachusetts’ legal director Matthew Segal told Newsweek Friday. This could have dangerous implications for children and teens, as they primarily use text messaging for communication. Read more here.

Children dying in hot cars and not all states have laws to protect them

An average of 37 kids die in the United States each year from vehicular heat stroke. According to NoHeatStroke.org, Texas had the most such deaths from 1998 to 2015, with 100. Florida had 72 deaths, California had 44, Arizona had 30 and North Carolina had 24. 12 children have died so far this year alone, including a 5-year-old boy in Arkansas who passed away after being left in a day-care van (Read about it here). Only 19 states have active laws that make it illegal to leave a child alone in a vehicle. Given that children are especially at risk to vehicular heat stroke due to their biology, it is puzzling that not every state has laws protecting them in place. Read more here. An especially bright 10-year-old boy has an invention on GoFundMe to protect children from car related deaths, click here to read about his product and donate.