Problems with the Current Foster Care System

Availability of Foster Homes

In the book Rethinking Orphanages for the 21st Century, Florida Seventeenth Circuit Court Judge Estella Moriarty summarized her argument for the need to establish an orphanage-style institution by sharing a story about a case she had many years earlier. The story is about three girls, the oldest of which was being molested by their father. The county prosecutor found conclusive evidence that the father was molesting his oldest daughter, who was 8 years old at the time, and convicted the father of child molestation. The mother refused to believe that this was happening, and the children were sent to live with their grandmother. The grandmother lived in a house with only one bed, and she had a difficult time providing for the children. When the father was released on bail, he began to visit the grandmother’s home often, and the grandmother felt that she could not protect the children and requested to have the children placed elsewhere. The children were then placed in a foster care home. The father in the foster care home also molested the 8 year old girl, and the children were placed back in the care of the grandmother. Within a week, the birth father molested one of the girls while they were at their grandmother’s house. The social care workers in the area said they had no choice but to place the children with the grandmother or the one foster care home because there were no other foster care homes available to place the children in.[1]

A Child's Suffering

On October 29, 1989, The Washington Post printed an article from sociologist, professor, and author Joyce Ladner.[2] In the article, Ladner shares an experience that illustrates what she feels is a serious problem in a childcare system that only has two options; temporary foster care that waits for adoption, or reunion of the child with the family. Ladner writes about an experience she had while visiting a youth center in Northwest Washington, Washington, D.C. The people who ran the center had informed her that it was common for many parents to drop their kids off at the center, with no money or food, while the parents went out to buy illegal drugs. At times, these parents would drop off their kids early in the morning and not pick them up until late at night, just to take them “home” and do it again the next morning. While she was visiting the center, she saw one of these boys who had just been dropped off at the youth center by his mother. The little boy was four years old and carrying his baby sister on his waist. This four year old boy would run around and play with his friends, all with his sister attached to him at the waist. When Ladner offered to carry the little girl while the four year old played, the boy stated his mom told him that he had to take care of his sister and that he was not allowed to leave her with anyone else. The boy would scream and cry whenever a few girls would take his sister into the restroom to change her diaper, stating that his mom would change her diaper when she came to pick them up later in the evening.[3]

Current Options are Limited

Ladner argues that the only option for children that are removed from families like this one is to place them into the foster care system, either to be adopted by another family or to reunite them with the birth family, at which point the child often returns to the same situation as before. Though adoption is an excellent option, Ladner points out that there are only so many people who are eligible to adopt a child. Ladner argues that the children are the ones who suffer because they are limited to these two choices based on laws originally written in the 1970s and a foster system that was designed over a hundred years ago.[4] Ladner takes this a step further when she suggests that the only solution to solve this problem of only having two options is to add another option such as the institutional care programs (sometimes referred to as “orphanages”) at the Milton Hershey School or Boys Town.

One Possible Solution

Moriarty argued that, though adoption is a good solution to problems like these, adoption cannot be the only solution because it can sometimes take years for a child to be adopted. While the child is waiting to be adopted, the child is being moved from foster home to foster home, often causing emotional scarring, problems in the child’s education, social development issues, and drug problems.[5] Moriarty highlights one statistic from Florida where in 1996, out of 220 foster care children between the ages of 16 and 18, only six graduated from high school.[6] The best solution, Moriarty argues, is an orphanage that is split up into small group homes that each have a set of house parents, similar to the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This way, if the house parents had to leave the orphanage for whatever reason, the children would still live in the same home, have many of the same friends, and still attend the same school; thus giving them the stability that they would not otherwise have.[7] This would also have the added benefit of giving children the family setting that they need, which was the original intent of the foster care system.[8]

Return to Adoption History


  1. Estella Moriarty, LL.D., “The Nation’s Child Welfare Problems as Viewed from the Bench,” Rethinking Orphanages for the 21st Century, ed. Richard B. McKenzie (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 1999), 40.
  2. Joyce Ladner, “Bring Back the Orphanages; They're Better for Kids Than Addicted Parents and Heartless Foster Care,” The Washington Post, October 29, 1989, accessed October 24, 2014,, and E. Francene Moore, “Joyce A. Ladner,” F.D. Bluford Library North Carolina A&T State University, accessed October 29, 2014,
  3. Ladner, “Better for Kids.”
  4. Ladner, “Better for Kids.”
  5. Moriarty, “Viewed from the Bench,” 41.
  6. Moriarty, “Viewed from the Bench,” 41.
  7. Moriarty, “Viewed from the Bench,” 43.
  8. Hastings H. Hart, Edmond J. Butler, Julian W. Mack, Homer Folks, and James E. West, “Letter to the President of the United States, Embodying the Conclusions of the Conference on the Care of Dependent Children Held By Invitation of the President in Washington, D.C., January 25 and 26, 1909,” (findings presented at the Conference on the Care of Dependent Children, Washington, D.C., January 26, 1909), 10-11.