Foster Care - Insights and Challenges

Goals

To identify reasons why families foster children, challenges for foster families, and strategies used by foster care organizations to attract families. These insights, and potentially case studies, will be used to provide clarity around the foster care experience for families.

Early Findings

Foster Care in the United States

  • As of 2018, around 437,500 children were in the foster care system.
  • Children are placed with relatives, foster parents, or group homes.
  • Around 17,000 children aged out of the foster care system in 2016.
  • The average age of a child in the foster care system is 8. On average, children remain in foster care systems for 2 years.

Foster Parenting

  • There is a shortage of foster parents in the United States. States do not have enough resources and funding to attract, train, and retain foster families. The implications of this trend for the children are not having a stable living environment, needing to move and change schools, and being separated from foster parents and siblings.
REASONS FOR BECOMING A FOSTER PARENT
  • The primary reason for becoming a foster parent is to make an impact on a child's life.
  • An additional benefit for foster families includes their own learning, gaining compassion, understanding, and knowledge.
  • Foster parents are also drawn to fostering due to the emotional benefits (more love and laughter in their household), the community support for their foster children, the support they can offer birth parents through the process, the ability to serve others, and the potential for adoption, in which the foster child can become a permanent member of the family.
FOSTER PARENTING CHALLENGES
  • Potential burnout and exhaustion from fostering children, coping with behavioral issues and learning disabilities, having limited time for one self and one's spouse (leading to marital issues), and lack of outside support, are key challenges for foster parents.
  • An additional challenge for foster parents is coping when the foster child leaves their home. Approaching the situation with honesty and positivity, and enabling clear communication with the child, are recommended strategies to make this particular situation more positive for the foster parent and child.
  • Managing questions, such as "are those your kids?", and "how much do you get paid?", and other awkward situations from well-intentioned strangers or acquaintances is another challenge faced by foster families.
  • The licensing process, which may include classes, home study, and ensuring their homes meet certain standards, are process challenges faced by prospective foster parents. Additional process challenges include restrictive rules and regulations (such as not being able to leave the state or stay overnight at someone's home), and not having legal guardianship.
  • Finally, for parents who may be fostering with the ultimate goal of adoption, uncertainty surrounding unification with the biological parent may also be a challenge or barrier to becoming a foster parent. Fifty-one percent of children in foster care are eventually re-united with their biological parents.

Foster Organizations

  • Strategies to attract foster families focus largely on highlighting the importance of the role of a foster family, in helping children recover from neglect, providing medical care, and offering stability and emotional support.
  • Emotional appeals ("the children need you"), related to meeting the critical needs of foster children looking for stable living situations, are a prominent tactic leveraged to attract potential foster families.
  • Specific reasons offered to encourage fostering include the impact of highlighting the impact of fostering on generations (not only impacting one child, but generations to follow) and providing a structure for foster children.
  • Organizations also highlight the support that can be provided to biological families, as well as the foster child, while they are fostering their children.
  • Testimonials from parents are also used to attract families. Sample testimonials include, "I had originally planned on never, ever doing foster care. I wanted to just adopt. And since then, I've had over 30 children in placement. I haven't taken a break in 10 years now, and I love every minute of it.", and "It's been fantastic; we have had a wild and crazy ride. We've loved them all, and they've loved us."

Case Studies

JAKE AND DESIREE
  • Biological parents to a two-year old, Jake and Desiree became foster parents (informally) to a 22-month old, whose mother was working to stabilize her life.
  • They dealt with behavioral challenges, including tantrums, and the child's difficulty in adjusting to a new routine and environment.
  • It was also somewhat challenging working with the biological parent, as she stabilized her life.
  • During the 15 months in which they cared for the child, they were, in fact, able to develop strong connections with the child and support the transition of the child back to the biological parent. They benefited from the feeling that "what they were doing mattered" and that they had many "memorable and fun days."
  • They felt that having a sense of humor, expecting that it would be hard work, but worthwhile work, and seeking support for the emotional challenges of fostering, were key to their positive experience.
  • They have applied since to become licensed foster parents, with formal training.

Summary Of Our Early Findings Relative To The Goals

  • In this first hour, we were able to uncover information about drivers of foster parenting, challenges associated with foster parenting, strategies and tactics used to encourage foster parenting, and case studies demonstrating the stories of foster parents, including their challenges, and the benefits of being foster parents.
  • Most of the research uncovered reflected fostering in the United States.
  • Our research recommendations are below.


Proposed next steps:

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