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Foster Care Series: “Throwaway Kids”

The six-part series in the Kansas City Star provides an in-depth look into our nation’s foster care system

As the year – and the decade – draw to a close, the Kansas City Star has published a gripping six-part investigative report on long-term outcomes for children who spend time in foster care.

The Star’s series is required reading for anyone who cares about the nation’s broken, overwhelmed child welfare system. Among its key findings:

  • Most state funding is spent investigating families, not trying to keep them together.
  • Multiple foster care placements don’t just harm children’s emotions, they hurt their brains.
  • Time in foster care robs children of a good education.
  • Every year thousands of children who spent time in foster care become homeless.
  • Many children come back into the state’s care as adults, this time as incarcerated people.

The report was inspired by a comment by a child advocate in Kansas City that foster care is “just a breeding ground for prison.” As part of its investigation, The Star surveyed 5,889 incarcerated people in 12 states. Of those, 1,446 said they had been in foster care. The report is exhaustively researched, including dozens of interviews with child welfare experts, judges, foster parents, doctors, and lawyers. Reporters reviewed decades of class action lawsuits filed against state systems, many of them brought by Children’s Rights, and concluded that “lawsuits, and the combination of nonprofit legal child advocates and private law firms, are the only voices these foster children have.”

Children’s Rights’ Litigation Director Ira Lustbader, who over the last 20 years has traveled to more than a dozen states to represent children, talks about his own awakening to how entrenched the problem is:

“I certainly didn’t realize how deep the structural problems were and how devastating they can be to both children and families. Once you see that, you can’t look away, you have to keep fighting it.”

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