In the United States, many children enter the traditional foster care system—and find themselves living with strangers under an unfamiliar roof.

Consider data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which revealed that in 2021, 203,770 youths in the United States below the age of 18 moved into the foster care system, which is “a rate of 3 per 1,000.” The organization also found that children between the ages of one and five comprised the “largest share (29% in 2021) of children entering care.” Additionally, according to the foundation, “Black and Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alas­ka Native chil­dren con­tin­ue to be over­rep­re­sent­ed among those enter­ing fos­ter care. In 2021, Black chil­dren rep­re­sent­ed 20% of those enter­ing care but only 14% of the total child pop­u­la­tion, while Amer­i­can Indi­an and Alas­ka Native kids made up 2% of those enter­ing care and 1% of the child pop­u­la­tion.”

Some situations call for foster care, such as physical abuse. But even in those cases, traditional foster care shouldn’t be the default solution; kinship care should be the first resort. Moreover, some children are removed for neglect, and in certain situations, I’ve observed that what the government deems neglect stems from poverty, namely, families having to work several jobs to make ends meet and not having adequate supervision of their children. In such cases, foster care outside of the child’s family circle shouldn’t be the answer—by taking certain steps, we can prevent children in these situations from entering the traditional foster care system and keep families together.

Offering Community Support

Community support is one of the most effective ways to prevent children from entering the traditional foster care system. Community and faith-based organizations can work together to help low-income families and other families with complex needs get the childcare and financial support they need. Providing resources to licensed child care providers to extend services or making volunteers available to sit down with a family to help them enroll in a food assistance program are two ways of many that communities can work to prevent children from being placed in the traditional foster care system.

Emphasizing Kinship Care

In the unfortunate event of an investigation leading to removal, I advocate for kinship care—placing a child with a family member, such as an aunt or grandparent, or with a trusted person who knows the family instead of in traditional foster care. There’s much progress to be made in this area. According to data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, between 2021 and 2023, only 3% of children were in kinship care in the United States.

Providing Help To Youths Post-Foster Care

When children leave the traditional foster care system, either by being adopted or reunited with their families, they need support to adjust. Strong social programs are crucial. For example, through Oregon’s Guardianship Assistance Program, adoptive guardians can get financial help to assist with “adaptive equipment or therapeutic activities that support the child’s needs.”

Read the full article about prevent children from entering foster care by Gary Ivory at Forbes.