Producing a Legally Autonomous Adult: Foster Care as a System Expansion in Life-Cycle Assessment
There is no ’typical’ production process for Legally Autonomous Adults (LAD). However, some very general inputs and flows can be assumed: Physical, mental, emotional, and social or cultural inputs are provided by primary caregivers throughout the process. LADs in Arizona in the 21st century are produced in small batches. Inputs tend to be provided by consistent sources according to unique values, and the production process does not actually stop cold at the factory gate, but continues on into the next phase.
Sometimes, due to externalities like substance dependence or domestic violence, the original production process either deprives the product of essential inputs or adds toxic inputs, causing damage. The damage can carry forward into the next phases, or even be so severe that the production process is terminated. When there is a risk of such damage, then the product – the child – is removed from his original production system, taken into the custody of a state-run institution (Child Protective Services), and placed in foster care.
LADs who have experienced a foster care intervention as part of their production process are less likely to have that obligatory property of Legal Autonomy, and more likely to have obligatory properties that are detrimental to society at large. Omitting other variables, they have higher rates of incarceration, homelessness, and substance abuse than LADs who have not been in out-of-home foster care. The financial and societal costs of those dependencies are imposed on the same stakeholders whose efforts and contributions make the foster care system possible.
CPS removal triggers a system expansion that expends energy and resources in an attempt to compensate for the missing inputs and to mitigate the toxic inputs, if any, that the child’s family was adding. In a material production system, it seems illogical to construct a complex system expansion which predictably results in products lacking their most important obligatory property. That contradiction was the impetus for this paper.
The goal of this life cycle analysis is to visualize that system expansion. Then, the project seeks to quantify and compare the difference between this system expansion and the generalized original process, in units of dollars per LAD. Finally, the project assesses the statistical impacts of the system expansion on LADs, and describes further impacts of these LADs on society at large.