Foster parents are the primary intervention in the lives of abused and neglected children. In order for children placed into foster care to receive the safety and stability they need to heal and thrive, available and willing high-quality families are needed.
In California, finding enough caregivers for the state’s foster children is a key plank of the state’s current child welfare initiative, the Continuum of Care Reform (CCR). That reform effort is driven by a need to place more of these children in the homes of caregivers, instead of institutional placements like group homes.
Recruitment of foster parents — now known as resource families in California — is relatively easy to measure. We can see the number of new families who seek more information about becoming a caregiver, take training classes and get approved as a resource family. We can also measure the number of relatives that are found through intensive family finding efforts. Many innovative recruitment efforts targeting specific communities and challenging foster care stereotypes have proven successful.
However, many agencies across the state still struggle to develop and track the success of resource family retention programs, a critical part of the state’s effort to provide homes for children in foster care.
Just as you would not begin filling the bathtub without first stopping the drain, the retention of resource families should be addressed prior to or in tandem with recruitment. According to an estimate from the Foster Care Institute, caregiver attrition in 2016 ranged from 30 to 50 percent. In the marketplace, no business would invest in recruiting until retention was addressed.
Resource families are a state asset, much like a state vehicle or piece of equipment. Some California advocates estimate the price of a resource family to start around $25,000. This includes the cost of recruiting, training and approving a family. Years of experience and training, not to mention the scarcity of available resource families, only increases their value.
The retention of resource families is not only in the financial best interest of the state, but is imperative to meet the increased need for family-based care as children are transitioning out of congregate care.
Data is limited on reasons why some resource families stop fostering. There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence on reasons why families stop fostering. These include child welfare system fatigue; inability to meet the time demands of transportation, appointments and education; inability to afford child care; and oftentimes the lack of tangible support, like parent coaching and mentoring, help with transportation, tutoring and respite.
Even those families who were ready to conquer the challenges they knew a journey into the foster care system would bring quickly burn out when they feel…
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