Throughout the month of May, to celebrate foster families and in recognition of National Foster Family Appreciation Day on May 31, CHAMPS has been highlighting stories of amazing foster families from around the country. We believe it’s important and worthwhile to express thanks regularly to these families who are vital partners in helping children and families heal. By sharing their stories, we hope others will learn more about both the challenges and joys that are unique to foster parenting.
In addition, by highlighting these stories, we seek to help policymakers understand both the challenges involved with being a foster parent, as well as the benefits of supporting better foster parenting policies, and join us, in our sense of urgency. By doing so, we can achieve better results for children in foster care.
Why do foster parenting policies merit our attention, understanding and support?
- Foster parents spend more time with children in foster care than any other professional partner, which makes them vital community partners in ensuring the safety and well-being of children in foster care.
- Foster parents helps children be safe and healthy, experience greater academic success and have more stable lives.
- Foster parents help birth families heal through coaching and mentoring; nurturing the parent-child bond; and supporting other family connections. This is a vital role because half of children who enter foster care return home.
- Strengthening foster families contributes to stable adoptive families. Half of the children adopted from foster care are adopted by their foster parents.
- Achieving success in foster parent recruitment entails not only having enough trained and available families to meet the needs of a community, but that the best possible match between family and child occurs. Good matches between children and families is critical to ensuring placement stability, which benefits children’s safety, permanency and well-being.
- Retaining and supporting foster parents yield better outcomes for children in foster care and can be cost-effective.
So, why is it urgent for today’s policy makers to act? First, foster care caseloads are increasing, and both rural and urban communities alike are struggling to find foster families who are ready and able to meet the growing needs. In the most recent year for which we have data, most states (39), experienced an increase in the rate of children and young people in foster care.[i] There’s no question that the ongoing opioid crisis contributes to increased demand for foster families. Over one-third of children entering foster care do so at least in part as a result of parental substance abuse.[ii] Of the states with the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths in 2016 (West Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Massachusetts), all but the District of Columbia had increases in foster care rates. West Virginia had both the highest opioid overdose death rates and foster care rates.[iii]
For children, much is at stake. Foster care is intended to be a safety net for children, and the goal always is for children to be connected to a stable family where they can grow and thrive. But, too many children in foster care, especially teens, don’t connect with a stable, lasting family and as a result they age out of foster care without having a permanent family to call home. Their foster care experience plays a key factor in their outcomes. Teens who have a non-family foster care placement, as well as those who experience instability while in foster care, are less likely to leave foster care to join a permanent family. In fact, half of teens in foster care experience three or more foster care placements.[iv]
CHAMPS campaign is focused on solutions. We have learned so much from those closest to the problems — families, youth and staff — about what works. For example, foster parents report that their greatest challenges are often dealing with child welfare practices and policies, not an unwillingness to parent children and youth. Therefore, by improving practice and policy we can better support the families who are our most important intervention.
The CHAMPS policy playbook offers promising policies and examples of best practice to guide policy makers in strengthening foster parenting supports, which in turn improves foster parent recruitment and retention. Investing in best practices for 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 are encouraged by the leadership we see in states, by governors, state legislators, public agency leaders and others. In conjunction with National Foster Care Month, CHAMPS conducted a state policy analysis and found that 13 states advanced 20 new laws or governor actions to improve foster parenting policies for the future, and another 17 bills are under consideration.
We are pleased by the number of governors who issued proclamations and related foster family appreciation messages during National Foster Care Month.
- Alabama, Foster Care Month proclamation, by Gov. Ivey, May 2019
- Alaska, Foster Parent Appreciation Month proclamation by Gov. Dunleavy, May 2019
- Colorado, Governor hosts event to recognize five foster families, May 2019
- Delaware Children’s Department hosts foster parent meeting, May 2019
- Florida, Foster Family Appreciation Week proclamation by Gov DeSantis, February 2019, and Foster Care Month proclamation, May 2019
- Georgia, Foster Care Month proclamation by Gov Brian Kemp, May 2019
- Hawaii, National Foster Care Month proclamation by Gov Ige, May 2019
- Michigan, National Foster Care Month proclamation by Gov Gretchen Whitmer, May 2019
- Mississippi, National Foster Family Appreciation Day message from Gov Bryant, May 31, 2019
- New Mexico, National Foster Care Month proclamation, May 2019
- North Carolina, National Foster Care Month proclamation by Gov Cooper, May 2019
- North Dakota, Children’s Foster Care Month proclamation by Gov Burgum, May 2019
- Ohio, National Foster Care Month news release by Gov DeWine and Department of Job and Family Services, May 2019
- Oregon, National Foster Family Appreciation Day message, by Gov Brown
- South Dakota, Every Child Deserves a Home, op-ed, by Gov Noem, February 2019, National Foster Family Appreciation Day video and message
- South Carolina, National Foster Care Month proclamation, by Gov McMaster, May 2019
- Virginia, National Foster Care Month proclamation, Gov Northam, May 2019
- Vermont, National Foster Care Month proclamation, May 2019
In addition, we applaud county and city leaders who spoke out to support and celebrate foster families, including Fairfax County, VA; Orange County, CA; Durham County, NC; Albuquerque, NM; Vernon County, WI; Chambers County, AL; Parkersburg, WV; and Springfield, MA.
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.
[ii] American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Foster Care, Adoption, and Kinship Care; Waite, Douglas; Greiner, Mary V.; and Laris, Zach (2018) “Putting Families First: How the Opioid Epidemic is Affecting Children and Families, and the Child Welfare Policy Options to Address It,” Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk: Vol. 9 : Iss. 1 , Article 4. Available at: https://digitalcommons.library.tmc.edu/childrenatrisk/vol9/iss1/4
[iii] Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/2017-the-number-of-children-in-foster-care-rose-in-39-states
[iv] Annie E Casey Foundation, Fostering Youth Transitions, https://www.aecf.org/m/resourcedoc/aecf-fosteringyouthtransitions-2018.pdf