The Importance of Home Permanency For Foster Child Development

Trying to get a child to adapt to a new home setting that is away from his or her original family can be one of the most difficult parts of adoption or moving the child around in foster care. Having a sense of home is pivotal to a child’s development and how they will conduct themselves into adulthood.

According to a Princeton Journal, “from a child’s perspective, the foster care experience can be emotionally traumatic, and it is associated with detrimental developmental outcomes and lower educational achievement.” The journal estimates that 30-80 percent of foster care youth exhibit emotional and behavioral problems as an effect of their foster care or pre-foster care experiences.

Not only does a sense of home come from a physical house, but also the bonds the child makes via new family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, and other people in the local community that the child can draw support from, be it emotional or motivational. The Department of Social Services recognizes that a permanent home is a central source of love, protection, stability, and something we all need in our lives: a sense of belonging.

Why are children left without a permanent home in the first place? According to the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services, 33 percent of children are placed in foster care due to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, and 3.2 percent due to caretaker inability.

Children who have grown up without a sense of home and family may create emotional barriers between themselves and their adoptive families as a means of dealing with new surroundings and new emotions that they are unable to comprehend due to lack of experience. According to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics’ Report on the Effects of Foster Care Placement on Young Children’s Mental Health, foster children sometimes don’t put much validity into the relationships they have with their foster parents because they feel there is no point in forming bonds with those in the foster care system if they will only be moved again soon.

What happens if a child spends too many years of their life being shuffled around without a definite place to call home? Without a place to feel grounded and safe during early development, children can feel confused and aimless about their own lives, and cause a plethora of problems.

Kids who end up “aging out” at 18 years of age slip further, often becoming homeless despite expanded programs to help them find employment and pay for school and rent. The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) 2012 indicates that:

  • Almost 40 percent of the 23,396 youth who aged out of the US foster care system ended up homeless or couch surfed.
  • Nearly 60 percent of young men had been convicted of a crime and only 48 percent were employed.
  • 75 percent of women and 33 percent of men receive government benefits to meet basic needs.
  • 50 percent of all youth who aged out were involved in substance use and 17 percent of the females were pregnant.

Adoptive parents, guardians, and state support staff alike never wish to see these terrible outcomes come to young children and strive to get them in permanent homes as soon as humanly possible. A National Conference of State Legislatures document indicates that the less time a child spends in home limbo, the better off he or she will be in the future.

The benefits of being established in a permanent home cannot be overstated even if the child is very slow to acclimate to a new home. These positive results are only possible if a loving family is aware of the fact that a newly adopted child may not warm up to them for a while, but is patient and is ready to undertake the necessary steps to bring down emotional barriers the adopted child will most likely have upon arrival.

A Harvard investigation revealed that “while many applicants expressed great frustration gaining access to ‘the system,’ making a strong personal connection with an individual once they obtained access made a tremendous difference in how applicants perceived the process and any systemic problems that arose.”

A sense of home goes beyond being familiar with a tangible structure and your own bed to sleep on. It’s a complete state of mind and a sense of belonging that your whole life revolves around as you grow and develop into adulthood.

Probably the most important aspect of a permanent home is the level of support the child will gain in his or her endeavors. According to the “Moving Children Out of Foster Care” study by the National Conference of State Legislators, “this network of support can help a child perform well academically, have positive mental and overall health outcomes and make it more likely that they will develop good relationship and social skills that can enable them to become successful adults.”

That place we call home is where bonds and relationships are developed, and no child should have to be deprived of something so paramount to how they will develop as a sound member of society. A permanent home can often be the one thing to bring lost children back from the brink of oblivion and give them another chance at a full and wonderful life.