Challenging the Overuse of Foster Care and Disrupting the Path to Delinquency and Prison

15 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2016

See all articles by Leslie J. Harris

Leslie J. Harris

University of Oregon - School of Law

Date Written: May 2010


Foster care is supposed to be a temporary safe haven for abused and neglected children, a place where they are cared for while their parents solve the problems that led to their mistreatment. For many children, foster care undoubtedly serves this function well. However, thousands of children live in foster care for extended periods of time, many leaving care only when they become adults. Recent studies show that for many of these children, foster care is not a safe, nurturing place. Instead, being in care exposes these children to substantial risks of later juvenile delinquency and adult criminal arrest and conviction, as well as mental health problems, difficulties in school, poor employment prospects, poverty and homelessness. Ironically, reducing the use of foster care and focusing more on in-home services have been public policy goals in the United States for more than thirty years, and the roots of these policies go back more than a century. Despite this long consensus, the foster care system has been stubbornly resistant to change. I argue that the system persists because it allows society to assert that it is protecting children from harm while refusing to provide substantial material support to poor parents and that turning this analytical lens onto the actual functioning of the foster care system and its harmful effects on many children could provide new ways to argue for legal and policy reforms to the child welfare system that could reduce the unnecessary use of foster care and its consequences for delinquency.

Suggested Citation

Harris, Leslie J., Challenging the Overuse of Foster Care and Disrupting the Path to Delinquency and Prison (May 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Leslie J. Harris (Contact Author)

University of Oregon - School of Law ( email )

1515 Agate Street
Eugene, OR Oregon 97403
United States

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