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Journal Issue: Children, Families, and Foster Care Volume 14 Number 1 Winter 2004

Statement of Purpose
Richard E. Behrman

Statement of Purpose

The primary purpose of The Future of Children is to promote effective policies and programs for children. The journal is intended to provide policymakers, service providers, and the media with timely, objective information based on the best available research regarding major issues related to child well-being. It is designed to complement, not duplicate, the kind of technical analyses found in academic journals and the general coverage of children's issues by the popular press and special interest groups.

This journal issue focuses on the foster care system. Every year, over 250,000 children are removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect and placed in foster care. Although foster care is intended to serve as a temporary haven until children can safely return to their parents or find another permanent family, for many children it does not serve this purpose. Rather, at any given time more than half a million children are in foster care. Many of these children have been in state care for extended periods of time, moving from placement to placement with all of their belongings in trash bags. The instability and uncertainty of the foster care experience undermines efforts to promote the wellbeing of children while they are in care and to help children establish lasting bonds with caring adults. The articles for this journal summarize the research on the effects of child maltreatment and the foster care experience on child development, review foster care policies and practices, and describe innovative initiatives aimed at improving the accountability and responsiveness of the foster care system.

The research reviewed in this journal finds that most children who enter foster care have already experienced multiple threats to their healthy development, such as prenatal drug exposure, poor nutrition, neglect, and abuse. These vulnerable children then enter a fragmented foster care system that lacks the necessary resources, technical proficiency, and interagency coordination to ensure that children and families receive the services and supports they need. Relatively new policy initiatives such as the Adoption and Safe Families Act and the Child and Family Services Reviews hold promise for improving the system, but federal policies alone cannot mend foster care. Reforming foster care will require concerted and coordinated efforts at the state and local level to ensure that state policies and frontline practices are responsive to the specific needs of children and families. Moreover, it will require all of those who touch the lives of foster children—families, communities, caseworkers, courts, and policymakers—to claim shared responsibility for improving their lives.

We welcome your comments and suggestions regarding this issue of The Future of Children. Our intention is to encourage informed debate about the most effective strategies for improving foster care. To this end we invite correspondence to the Editor-in-Chief. We would also appreciate your comments about the approach we have taken in presenting the focus topic.