The sociological approach to foster care is a unique one. Traditionally, the main stakeholders involved in developing foster care best-practices are economists, psychologists, doctors or medical professionals, and social workers (Wildeman & Waldfogel, 2014).
This means that the analytical approach to foster care is generally split: some professionals take a qualitative approach (social workers, for example), while others take a quantitative approach (economists, for example). Applying sociology to the study of foster care systems could help combine these two approaches—qualitative and quantitative—and facilitate a more holistic view of the foster care system, its benefits, and its flaws.
There are certainly also cultural issues within the foster care system that a sociological approach could help to contextualize. For example, take a look at the first “era” of the foster care system—before 1970, “upwards of 25% to 35% of Native American children were placed in care [….] with non-Native American families” (Wildeman & Waldfogel, 2014).
To this day, African American and Native American children are overrepresented in the system, and often exceed the number of same-race families available to take them. This often leads to them being placed with different-race families, something that can lead to cultural tension and unfamiliarity from both the child and the family’s side.
The exploration of how children get placed in foster care could also benefit from a sociological approach. Researchers might track what the cultural or societal differences are that lead to this overrepresentation of Native American and African American foster children and the underrepresentation of Native American and African American foster families within the system: socioeconomic inequalities, or cultural bias, for example.
While I don’t have any personal experience with the foster care system in this country, I do know that there are flaws within the system that we could work towards correcting with a more holistic view of the entire foster care cycle: from identification of children, to placement, to experience in the home, all the way through those children’s adult lives.