Foster Parent Retention Revisited

For many years, there had been a decrease in the number of children being placed into the foster care system in the United States of America. Yet, for the past three years, there has been just the opposite; there has been a national increase in the number of children being placed into foster care.

The number of children placed into care peaked in 2002, with 524,000 children reported placed into foster care. According to a study by the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), the number of children placed into foster care fell to a low of 397,000 in 2012, and has again risen to 428,000 in 2015. During this time, roughly three fourths of the United States reported increases in children placed into foster care during the years of 2014 and 2015. The larger number of children being placed into foster care, nationwide, is due much in part of an increase in parental drug usage and substance abuse, with Heroin use being the chief drug increasing among parents. Other substance abuse among parents include meth, cocaine and prescription medication abuse. Along with this, more children are also being placed into foster care due to parental neglect.

Five states, in particular, stood out with the largest increases between the years of 2013-2015. These states include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Minnesota, with these states accounting for 65% of the nationwide increase. Georgia had the largest increase during this time, and saw their number of children placed into state care rise from, 7600 in September 2013 to 13,266 in November of 2016. Indiana had the second largest increase, with their numbers increasing by 37 percent from 12,382 in 2013 to 17,023 in 2015. Minnesota saw an increase of children placed into their state foster care by 33% The state of Florida saw an increase of children being placed into care between this time period of 24 percent. Finally, Arizona saw their numbers increase from 17,592 children placed into foster care to 18,657 during the same time period.

Of the 428,000 children in foster care across the nation, the average age of a child rests at 8. The average time spent in foster care is 13 months. 52 percent of children placed into care are boys, with 48 percent being girls. Finally, 42 percent are classified as white, 24 percent classified as black or African American, and 22 percent are classified as Hispanic.

With the increase in the number of children placed into foster care, there has been at the same time a tremendous challenge, nationwide, of retaining foster parents. Indeed, the turnover rate of foster parents ranges from 30% to 50%. Thus, 30% to 50% of foster parents make the decision to no longer be a foster parent home for children in need. As a result, with the increase in children in foster care paired with the decrease in number of foster parents, the end result is simply that there are not enough homes for children in need to be placed in, or a child is moved from one home to another, and so on and so forth.

Why is it that the foster parent retention rate is so high? Is it because it is a difficult job? To be sure, there are many challenges to being a foster parent. Is it due to financial strains on a family? Foster parents are reimbursed for much of the costs for the child in the home, but many a foster parent will state that they spend that some of the expenses come out of their own income. Is it due to the feelings of grief and loss when a child leaves? For many, these feelings are real, as the child in their home becomes a loved member of their family. Is it due to the not having consistency with the child’s caseworker? According to one study by Flower, McDonald, & Sumski, up to 40% of child welfare caseworkers leave their jobs every year, while 90% of agencies indicate they have difficulty in both hiring and retaining staff. Perhaps it is due the lack of understanding from friends and family members of foster parents, and thus lack of support. Perhaps it is due to the stress it can place upon a marriage. Possibly, it is due to not having the appropriate resources to properly care for the child placed in their home, or being unable to manage the challenging behaviors attributed to the child. Or, perhaps it is a combination of many of these issues, or maybe even all of them. To be sure, a large number of foster parents each year experience difficulties whereupon they determine that they can no longer foster a child in need.

A study by the Foster Care Institute found that foster parent retention suffers from several different factors. To begin with, the majority foster parents taking part in the survey indicated that they were currently or had suffered from feelings of grief and loss. Of this number, half expressed they did not feel supported by their case worker or agency during this time, with only 36 stating that they did feel supported. A minority of foster parents surveyed stated that they felt that they were included in the decision making of the child placed in their home. A percentage of foster parents felt that they did not receive the training they needed each year to be an effective foster parent. Training and resources for foster parent burnout and grief also was lacking, as only 33% felt that they had adequate training in this regard. Furthermore, more than half felt that they wanted to quit being a foster parent at some point, with 19% of these stating that they felt like quitting more than once.

Additionally, the study found that many foster parents felt they did not have the necessary and honest information by their caseworkers needed to properly care for the child placed in their home. The lack of consistency with the same caseworker also was a problem for foster parents surveyed. Along with this, many foster parents indicated that they did not feel appreciated or respected by their caseworkers. The lack of respite care, or use of “time off” with a respite care program for foster parents was also seen as a concern.

One simply has to open up a newspaper, turn on the television, listen to the radio, or engage in some sort of social media and learn about yet another “bad foster parent” incident. The media focuses upon those negative stories about foster parents, thus helping to perpetuate an already negative viewpoint and stereotype of foster parents. This type of negative awareness only hurts those foster parents who strive to be the best foster parent possible; work hard to give the child in need the support, stability, and love that they need.

For the next several months, we shall be examining why foster parent retention is high. To be sure, foster parenting can be incredibly challenging, and might just be the most difficult “job” a person tackles in one’s life. At the same time, it can also be the most rewarding job a person does in his or her lifetime. Lives are changed for the better, not only for the child many times, but for the foster parent, as well. In order for a child in need to find a loving, safe, and stable home, foster parents need to find the emotional, educational, physical, and financial support they need, as well. If not, both the child in foster care and the foster parent will suffer.