The Chronicle of Social Change released a new state-by-state analysis, “Who Cares: A National Count of Foster Homes and Families,” that finds:
- At least 15 states lost family foster homes between 2017-2018.
- Thirty-one states placed a higher percent of foster youth in congregate care placements in 2016 than they did in 2012
- Forty-four states increased their use of relative placements between 2012 to 2016. However, in 23 of those states, more than half of all relative caregivers received no assistance.
- Forty-four states increased placements with relatives between 2012 to 2016. However, in 23 of those states, more than half of all relative caregiver’s receive no assistance.
- The trend in recent years of increasing caseloads may be declining based on the Chronicle’s estimates.
As co-chairs of the national CHAMPS campaign to improve policies to support excellent parenting for children in foster care, we commend the Chronicle for its data project. These new findings underscore what we know to be an urgent and persistent challenge: many states and localities do not recruit and retain enough caregivers for the children in foster care.
We hope the findings will prompt policymakers to make a close examination of their state’s data and trends. And, most of all, we hope they focus their attention on finding solutions that result in every child living in a family.
This report is important not only for its findings, but for illuminating the surprising lack of national reporting on foster care, from how many foster families are available, the support given them, how we can improve those supports, and to who and where they are.
This data project should draw the attention by policy makers. As the analysis indicates, there is a pressing need in many states to ensure more children in foster care have stable families to care for them.
The recent enactment of the Family First Prevention Services Act creates a tremendous opportunity for policymakers to engage in efforts to improve the lives of our most vulnerable children by scaling up what we have learned works to recruit and retain families in foster care through innovation and best practice throughout the country.
As reform-minded advocates with a record of success in system reform, we offer five key insights that we hope will contribute to the ongoing national dialogue about foster care placements.
- First, and most importantly: All children need and do best in families. We know with certainty that stable, loving, supportive families—whether birth, kin, foster or adoptive—are critical to the healthy development of all children. Increasing numbers of children in congregate care come at a cost to children’s well-being and safety.
- Foster care is an important safety net, and high-quality foster parenting must be a priority. As communities undertake reforms to improve policy and practice, those changes must treat foster parents and kinship caregivers as the primary intervention for ensuring the belonging, safety and well-being of children in foster care.
- Reform efforts that prioritize parents as partners see measurable results on behalf of children. The Quality Parenting Initiative demonstrates this.
- The growing number of placements with relative caregivers may reflect states’ implementation of intensive family finding searches. Proven practices such as Family Finding and Engagement should be scaled up.
- Partnering with and supporting existing foster parents should be the first step in building recruitment and retention strategies. Recent surveys of American adults find that nearly a third of all adults in the United States have already considered, or are willing to explore, parenting children in foster care. Our greatest challenge is not a lack of families; it’s the lack of timely supports and services provided to those families. It’s estimated that each year about half of foster parents quit due to inadequate agency support, poor communication with case workers, challenging policy and practices, insufficient training to address the child’s needs and lack of say in the child’s well-being. Foster parents hold many answers to what makes a successful partnership and how to build a more child-focused system.
- We also urge policy makers and others to shed the use of old labels and focus on understanding the vital role that foster and kin families play the lives of children. Families provide so much more than a placement or housing arrangement. They are critical to helping children achieve permanency, including successful reunification. Foster and kin families provide loving homes where children receive the individual attention they need to heal, grow and thrive. They play key roles in children’s educational, health, emotional, and social well-being. Foster parents also are mentors and coaches to birth families and play a significant role in helping children stay connected with their families and communities, including siblings and friends.
- Finally, let’s focus on solutions. We have learned so much from those closest to the problems — families, youth and staff — about what works. The CHAMPS policy playbook offers promising policies and examples of best practice to guide policy makers in their reform efforts. Policy makers may be surprised that many solutions to recruiting, retaining and supporting foster parents can be no- or low-cost. Investing in quality foster parenting can save money through shorter lengths in care, fewer costly residential placements, improved physical and mental health, and reduced case worker time seeking new placements and recruiting new foster parents.
We hope this data project sparks greater focus and attention to better supporting our nation’s children through improved policies and practices.
The CHAMPS campaign invites all interested stakeholders: policy makers, advocates, families, providers and others to join us in advocating for change. For more information on how to get involved in CHAMPS, see our website here: https://fosteringchamps.org/get-involved/
Jennifer Rodriguez, Executive Director of Youth Law Center and Co-Chair to CHAMPS
Jeremy Kohomban, President & CEO of The Children’s Village and Co-Chair to CHAMPS