It’s come to light that a statistic regarding the California foster care system is incorrect. The number of California prison inmates formerly in the foster care system, also known as the foster care to prison pipeline, has been reported as 70%. It’s a statistic not off by just a little or that’s been shared by only a few. In fact according to Children’s Data Network, a data and research collaborative focused on the linkage and analysis of administrative records, this statistic has been repeated in a congressional hearing and associated report, cited in at least one book, news article, nonprofit fundraising letter, and literature review,and touted on the webpages of at least four national organizations supporting foster youth. Additionally their report dated June 6, 2017 states, “After much investigation, however, we have failed to find its source. And without a source and associated methodology upon which to judge its veracity, we can only conclude that it is unfounded. Long story short: There is no evidence to support this claim”
The fact is the number is much lower at 28%. What does this mean and why is it important?
It means that erroneous data of dire circumstances and underreported news of positive outcomes for foster children has been shaping the public’s, and even those working within the foster care system, perceptions about the success rate of the important work of rehabilitating families or providing better homes for children in need.
Thankfully agencies like the Child Welfare Data Analysis Bureau at the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), in partnership with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), linked administrative data to document the prevalence of child welfare involvement among inmates. Findings indicated that 28% of inmates incarcerated between 2000 and 2013 had a history of either an open child welfare case for in-home services or an out-of-home foster care placement.
Putting a microscope on one aspect of the California foster care system and reporting incorrect information about the number of inmates that are from foster care is a gross disservice and creates an underserved black eye on the very system that is providing incredibly positive outcomes for the most fragile children in our communities. It can also dissuade potential foster families when they are needed the most.
The takeaway is this; the California foster care system continues to be a beacon of hope for children in crisis, a safe place for them to land and their best hope for a forever family.