children outside

Are Fewer Children In Foster Care?

Are fewer children being placed in foster care? And is that a good thing, full stop?

An article at Nebraska Radio Network, looking solely at that state's numbers, reports that 837 fewer kids are in the system now, compared to figures from March 2012. The number of kids in out-of-home care also fell almost 10% to a total of 3,680.

One might think that an attorney who defends people falsely accused of child abuse -- whose kids are at risk of being put into the foster care system - would celebrate this drop.

But caution is called for here, as with all statistics. This is true for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, this is just one state and therefore one temporal slice of the statistics pie so to speak. It's too early to draw any kind of serious conclusions from these numbers.

Second, the issues at work in the larger context of false abuse allegations and the gross deprivations of civil rights that often occur in that context are much bigger than "foster care is bad/reunification is good." Clearly, child abuse exists, and it's always a tragedy when it does.

But the danger in looking solely at statistics is that it makes us careless, and leads us to that same kind of "either/or" thinking that got us into this mess to begin with. It's just not a case of "either we have a serious problem with child abuse or we have a serious problem with false accusations of child abuse." We have both.

Finally, we don't really have any evidence to point to the causes behind this drop in foster care statistics. It could be due to a number of things -- a gap in training, for instance, or a failure to report. Or human or computer error in reporting (though we'd hope that would be less likely in this day and age, it does happen.)