Somebody's Children or Nobody's Children? How the Sociological Perspective Could Enliven Research on Foster Care

Annu Rev Sociol. 2014 Jul;40:599-618. doi: 10.1146/annurev-soc-071913-043358.


Social scientists have long been concerned about how the fortunes of parents affect their children, with acute interest in the most marginalized children. Yet little sociological research considers children in foster care. In this review, we take a three-pronged approach to show why this inattention is problematic. First, we provide overviews of the history of the foster care system and how children end up in foster care, as well as an estimate of how many children ever enter foster care. Second, we review research on the factors that shape the risk of foster care placement and foster care caseloads and how foster care affects children. We close by discussing how a sociological perspective and methodological orientation-ranging from ethnographic observation to longitudinal mixed methods research, demographic methods, and experimental studies-can foster new knowledge around the foster care system and the families it affects.

Keywords: Child Protective Services; Foster care; child maltreatment; child welfare; inequality.