- The Washington Times - Monday, May 12, 2003

Most Americans aren’t familiar with the nation’s foster care system, but what little they know leads them to believe it needs significant change, says a poll taken by a new panel on foster care.

“There’s clearly a need for some public education” about foster care, said Carol Emig, executive director of the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care.

The 16-member commission is led by two former members of the House, Minnesota Republican Bill Frenzel and Pennsylvania Democrat William H. Gray III, and includes child-welfare officials, judges, social workers, foster and adoptive parents, and former foster youths.

Their mission is to study federal foster care funding and court oversight in child welfare. They plan to offer their recommendations next spring.

At a news conference last week, commission leaders released a poll of 812 voters and their views of foster care. The poll showed that 67 percent of voters were “only somewhat” or “not at all” familiar with the issue of foster care.

More than 90 percent of voters knew that children entered foster care because of abuse, neglect or abandonment. More than half, 56 percent, had a favorable view of foster care services in their communities.

Five percent agreed that the foster care system, as a whole, is “fine as it is, no changes needed.” Twenty-four percent wanted to see minor changes, 38 percent wanted many changes and 15 percent said the system needs a “complete overhaul.”

“Public unease about the safety and well-being of children in foster care is one of the many compelling reasons for the commission’s work,” Mr. Gray said.

The Pew poll, which was taken by Peter D. Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies, found that news coverage was the way more than half the voters learned about foster care.

But 78 percent of voters said that in the past three months, they had “seen, heard or read” little or nothing about foster care.

This overlaps somewhat with a separate study released last year by the Casey Journalism Center on Children and Families at the University of Maryland, which found that most news coverage of children’s issues were “quick-hit stories of crime and violence.”

Stories on child abuse and neglect were the second most covered topic, after youth crime and violence, said the center, which commissioned a three-month study of 12 daily newspapers and four national TV networks.

A third of the child-abuse stories offered in-depth information about child-welfare issues.

“Context doesn’t have to be pages long. It can be a sentence. But without it, we fail in our mission to help educate our audiences and contribute to a more informed public debate,” Beth Frerking, director of the Casey journalism center, said when the study was released in February 2002.

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