From an American point of view, it is almost incredible that international child welfare bodies are promoting foster care–foster care!–as a version of permanency and a “family like” solution for children who find themselves living out of parental care, and who are unlikely ever to return to their families of origin. I have tracked UNICEF’s activities in this area for years, and it is beyond dispute that UNICEF expresses “alarm” when international adoption numbers from a country become too high, and encourages foster care as a humane alternative.
Foster care undoubtedly has its place–for older children who have established real links with a particular social and cultural environment, and for children who have a good chance of being reunited with family members, skilled foster care can make a great deal of sense. For children who do not wish to be adopted and are already, as adolescents, deeply involved in a particular community….But for young children who are very unlikely to be reunited with family members, why would anyone prescribe foster care when adoption–by parents in any location–is available?
Is foster care preferable to group institutionalization? Undoubtedly. However, foster care is linked to a wide variety of poor outcomes where it is practiced as a long-term option in child welfare. In the United States, the foster care link to later incarceration and prostitution is clear; legal remedies for those adversely affected have yet to be fully pursued.
I can only imagine what will happen if countries turn from large institutions to paid stranger foster care to address the needs of the social orphan population….