African-American baby (224116)
Credit: Image by Chris Thornton from Pixabay

More than 400,00 children are in foster care across the United States, and most are children of color. This number will only increase because of the current opioid crisis in the country. According to, we spend approximately $20,000 a month for a child to be placed in foster care, but we refuse to support families with concrete resources and services to prevent placing children in foster care.

Most low-income families need services such as housing, transportation and a boost to their income to maintain the bare necessities. If you look at the different expenses that go into caring for a child who has been placed in foster care, such as doctors, therapists, guardians, judges, nurses, case workers and foster parents, you see that the cost exceeds $20,000 a month. These funds should be used to keep families together.

These expenditures are made in the name of safety. It is well researched and documented that most children are placed in foster care because of poverty or neglect that results in parents’ failure or inability to provide adequate food, shelter and clothing and stimulating environments in which children can thrive.

I suggest that we develop a system geared toward prevention by providing resources and services at the front end for families in crisis.

Most children who encounter the child welfare system do not fare well. Children often experience homelessness, incarceration, sex trafficking, mental health issues, substances abuse and isolation from extended families and community well into their adult lives.

We must pay now with adequate resources and services that are trauma-informed, evidenced- based, well-informed promising practices that can strengthen the lives of children and families. In doing so, we build healthy communities. However, everyone must commit to this transformation. Do we have the will? We are at crossroads with new legislation called the Family First Prevention Service Act that was passed with bipartisan support and was fully funded as of Feb. 9, 2018. By no means is it perfect, but it is a significant beginning to elevate the well-being of children and families.

This law can support programs in the community and help develop training for foster parents; provide in-home parenting, substance treatment for parents with their children and mental health services; and end unnecessary placement of children/youth in group homes without the necessary clinical evaluations. In addition, there is the potential for foster parents to become mentors to the families of the children they foster.

We need parents, foster parents, youth and kinship care givers to join in transforming the child welfare system. We also need political leaders, service providers and other community stake holders and residents of New York City to demand the city and state take advantage of this opportunity. The commitment to putting families first can save money in the future. Reach out to your senators, congressional representatives and City Council members to ask for their support for the Family First Prevent Service Act implementation.

Sandra Killett is a social justice organizer, concerned citizen and resident of the Harlem community.