Falling through the cracks: Migrant children in foster care

Just 1% of foundation funding for children aging out of foster care goes to children of color.

Written by: Sabrina Laverty

Date: July 11, 2019

With World Refugee Day last month, and May being National Foster Care Month, now is the perfect time to bring more awareness to the increasing number of migrant children entering the foster care system within the U.S.

Of the 10,000s of referrals the Office of Refugee Resettlement receives every year for migrant children to be placed in foster care, almost 5,000 enter the system, in addition to the almost 500,000 U.S.-born children in foster care.

While the reasons these children are entering the system vary, 1 thing is certain: The risks associated with aging out of the system are even higher for migrant children, especially those of color.

According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, on average, more than 68% of migrant children without parents or guardians who came to the U.S. from 2014 and 2018 were between the ages of 15 to 17 years old.

In most states, once a child turns 18, they are no longer considered a ward of the state, and depending on a child’s immigration or asylum status, a child may be more likely to experience a lack of educational opportunities, homelessness and unemployment.

In addition, racial and ethnic discrimination in America continues to run rampant. There are political, economic and social barriers that exist for people of color in this country, and the development opportunities for migrant children of color are left unprotected. Children below the age of 18 have the least power and wealth.

Discrimination may occur at the institutional level because children of color are less likely to receive mental health services, have fewer visits with their parents or siblings whom they have been separated from and are less likely to receive services designed to reunite them with relatives.

On an individual level, migrant children may face verbal ridicule, harassment and physical assault from their peers, whether that be in school, foster family placement or a group-home setting.

Studies have shown that a child’s perception of direct discrimination can have a plethora of negative psychological, physical, academic and social consequences.

Thus, it is disappointing that less than 1% of funding for aging out of foster care was specifically designated to children of color since 2014, with a bulk of that grantmaking occurring in 2016.

Without taking a strong stance on supporting racial equity within the foster care system, funders continue to add to the disenfranchisement of children of color. 

Funders have the power to change the lives of these children facing such complex issues, enlarged by their legal status and racial background, by:

  • Funding advocacy efforts. Increasing funds to efforts such as rallies and workshops not only helps educate the public about the challenges faced by migrant children of color aging out of the foster care system, but it can also inspire more individuals to engage in the movement.
  • Promoting youth-led organizing. Funders can help amplify their voices by investing in youth leadership programs that train young people to engage in collective action and make substantive contributions to their communities, such as knowledge of their rights within the U.S. foster care system.
  • Designate more funding towards migrant children of color. Because migrant children of color may experience the same challenges as other migrants and children of color within the foster care system, it is important to recognize that they need additional support. Funders should review their grant portfolios to see how to support this group within current grantmaking practices.

Funders can take action against this inequity and push for a more diverse and inclusive society by backing those who not only provide resources to migrant children of color, but also raises their own voices.

Sabrina Laverty is NCRP’s research intern. Follow @NCRP on Twitter.