Alanna is one of approximately 10,500 children (as of July ’07) within the foster care system of Washington state. This does not include all children referred for investigation of child abuse and neglect. (In 2002, this total number was 28,718 children.) Nationwide, there are 799,000 children who go through the foster care system per year. These numbers have not changed significantly in 5 years. Foster parent orientation classes will state outright that virtually all children who are placed within the foster care system have been abused or criminally neglected in some way. Families willing to foster children are desperately needed. Sadly, recent socioeconomic analysis shows that households willing to foster children are more likely in the lower economic levels. Wealthy families seeking to increase their household consider only adoption and tend to seek babies, frequently from other countries where the child is legally free, available more quickly and less likely to have suffered abuse.
Straight adoption of older foster children is quite rare; the state system is biased toward recruiting foster parents, rather than parents interested solely in adoption, because of the urgent need for foster families. Most of the younger foster children are not legally free to be adopted, requiring licensed foster parents. Fostering with the intent to adopt is possible, but the risk of having the child removed and returned to the birth parents is very real. If the troubled birth parents make even a minimal effort to comply with state-mandated requirements to rehabilitate themselves, the child can be removed from a happy foster home and returned to a troubled home situation an indefinite number of times. It takes years to adopt a child within the foster care system; infants placed in the system at birth do not become legally free for adoption until they are around three in most cases.