The CPS Cycle: Do Kids in The System Become Parents in The System?

Foster care, while serving a very important need in communities across the country, also puts children in a very difficult position. Removing them from the caregivers they’ve always known, undermining stability and breaking up families, kids in foster care have been shown to struggle with vastly increased mental health and behavioral issues. And that shouldn’t come as any surprise. Trapped in the CPS cycle, they often aren’t able to break free of systemic problems that spill over from a traumatic childhood.

A ring of arrows showing an endless cycle, going around and around. This symbolizes the CPS cycle that kids get trapped in.

Foster kids aren’t set up for successful futures in the cycle…

30,000 kids age out of the foster care system every year. Within four years of aging out, 50% of them have no earnings, and those who do earn less than $7,500 a year. So as you can tell, they certainly aren’t set up for future success. And given the many challenges they face on an emotional and psychological front, it’s no wonder they struggle with the stresses of parenting their own kids. Between poverty, depression, PTSD, and a history of trauma, many simply aren’t equipped to handle the incredible stress of raising kids without help. This cycle loops them right back into the system.

Longitudinal studies of foster kids show they struggle in many ways

Everything from developing visual-spatial memory to problem solving is affected by trauma. Studies show that kids in the foster system are negatively impacted in all of these areas, because they’ve experienced trauma, possibly as a result of abuse or neglect, and then again as a result of being taken from their homes and families. Research shows that most foster kids underperform in school, most likely as a result of their traumatic experiences during their formative educational years, and this has a direct impact on their socio-economic status later in life.

They face many more struggles than kids with families

Add to all of the challenges that foster kids already face, the fact that when they age out they don’t have a support system in place. Kids with families have parents they can reach out to when they need advice, financial support, or help with a collicky baby. Foster kids don’t usually have that sort of support system they can rely on when life throws them a curveball. Which means they’re more likely to need help with meeting childcare needs, and often don’t have someone they can reach out to when a baby is sick, or when a toddler is throwing epic tantrums. All in all, being foster kids has set them up for a higher rate of failure in adulthood, which is tragically unfair.  

The system is almost designed to fail.

One of the primary reasons children get taken from their parents by CPS workers is poverty. Poverty can look like child neglect, and in so many cases CPS workers mistake lack of resources for lack of care. Which means that foster kids, who grow up hampered by educational struggles that lead to job insecurities, and mental health troubles that lead to difficulties in holding down higher paying jobs, and no support system to carry them through unexpected financial troubles, are being doomed to fail. Destined to end up fighting CPS the way their own parents did when they were younger. In an endless cycle of systemic failure that is leaving generations of families torn apart. It’s heartbreaking, and it needs to stop.