What Foster Care Means for Women and Girls
According to childrensrights.org, nearly 424,000 children are in foster care on any given day. While foster care affects all children, certain issues uniquely impact women and girls. May is National Foster Care Month, so BIFP hopes to shed light on some of the problems that women and girls face in the foster care system.
One problem that women face in the foster care system is teen pregnancy. Research has shown that girls in foster care are twice as likely as their peers to become pregnant before 19. There are several reasons for this. One reason is that children in foster care often don’t spend a long time in one home or even school, so this may mean missing important education on sexual wellness, as well as not having an adult role model to approach with questions about relationships or safe sex. Also, in some cases, teenage girls intentionally become pregnant to create their own families, which they lack in foster care. However, after aging out of the system, young women are likely to experience financial and personal hardships that make it difficult to care for a child. This increases the likelihood that the child will be placed into the foster care system themselves, continuing the cycle.
Girls in the foster care system often run away, which can be a serious problem because runaways often find themselves dangerous situations, sometimes turning to prostitution or drug dealing in order to sustain themselves. Research has shown that nearly ½ of older youth in foster care have run away at least once. Research has also shown that women and girls make up for 61% of runaway foster youth. The instability of the foster care system encourages young girls to seek refuge elsewhere, but they often find greater instability outside of the system.
Another heartbreaking problem affecting women in foster care is human trafficking and sexual abuse. Research shows that 14% of foster children reported missing were likely victims of sex trafficking. Human trafficking is very common in the foster care system because traffickers tend to prey on the most vulnerable in society, and, unfortunately, children in foster care often do not have networks of stability. Traffickers often target vulnerable children in foster care and bribe them with housing, money, drugs, and other things they may not have access to.
One of the most common ways that traffickers draw in young women and girls is by pretending to be a loving boyfriend. Girls in foster care often crave love and affection because they do not receive love and affection from adults, and thus turn to traffickers disguised as boyfriends. Additionally, foster children often do not receive guidance from adults and therefore cannot identify warning signs. Research also shows that 81% of girls in foster care were sexually abused. Women and girls in the foster care system are at a higher risk of being sexually abused because there is a lack of oversight by agencies that negligently place children in unsafe homes.