Throughout the United States foster, adoptive and kinship parents take in children who aren’t there own in order to shelter and protect them from abuse and neglect. These parents are there for the nearly 400,000 children in the foster care system. But what happens when they’re not? Some states are experiencing foster parent shortages right now.
After several years of decline, the number of children in foster care nationwide has started to rise again.
Beginning in 2013, the number of children in foster care rose to 402,378, or nearly 1 percent, from 397,000 the year prior. That figure increased by 3.5 percent in 2014 to more than 415,000, according to the New York Times.
This increase of children in the foster care system is revealing a shortage of foster parents in some pockets throughout the country. Parts of Massachusetts, Minnesota and California are under a severe strain as they look to find ways to address the issue.
In Massachusetts, the need for foster parent is reflective of a growing population in care.
A 2015 Milford Daily News article titled “Foster family shortage stretches existing homes thin” outlines how the number of children in care has outpaced the number of foster homes available to take in placements.
“According to Department of Children and Families officials, there are 8,258 children in foster care. At last count on Dec. 31, 2014, there were 5,504 foster homes in the state. Between 2013 and 2014, the number of foster children increased 19 percent, according to DCF quarterly reports. From 2013 until now, the number of ongoing cases has increased 30 percent.”
In California, the shortage of foster families effects several counties and is a result of a myriad of issues, including difficulty recruiting and training potential families. In Los Angeles, the number of beds in homes of foster parents who are unrelated to foster youth has fallen. According to ProPublica, “The Los Angeles Times has reported that in 2000, there were 22,000 beds – now there are 9,000.”
Unfortunately, there is not one simple reason to explain why some areas of the country are experiencing foster parent shortages while other areas are not. Some places are more directly affected by the influx of children into the foster care system. For example, substance abuse by parents, particularly heroin, is a major reason more children are being placed into the foster care system in states like California and Ohio.
Other regions struggle with recruitment and retention.
Some areas, like Minnesota, are reporting that they are having difficulty recruiting the younger generation to become foster parents, while the older, more veteran foster parents of 25 or 30 years are retiring and closing their homes.
New Jersey also suffered from foster parent shortages before a 1999 lawsuit filed by Children’s Rights. The Manhattan-based group accused the state of endangering its foster children with inadequate and substandard care.
Instead of fighting the lawsuit, NJ settled and agreed to sweeping changes that included having enough frontline intake staff to thoroughly investigate allegations of abuse, providing preventative services to be offered to families with the hope of keeping children in their biological homes and requiring a license for foster and adoptive homes.
To learn more about the 2003 settlement agreement, click here.
Since then, NJ’s child welfare system has made huge improvements, including in the area of recruiting and retaining foster parents. Now, NJ has approximately 7,500 licensed foster, adoptive and kinship parents compared to the 6,900 children in out-of-home placement.
Child welfare experts stress the importance of strategic recruitment for foster and adoptive parents. While states and private foster care agencies cannot control many of the variables that result in foster parent shortages, they can control how they approach recruitment and retention of local foster and adoptive parents.
According to the “Practitioner’s Guide” from AdoptUsKids, it’s an imperative agencies approach recruitment with patience, understanding and kindness.
“Foster and adoptive parents are the most important resource we have to give the children we serve,” the guide states. “How you treat them will determine whether they stay in the process and, ultimately, become part of your team.”
If you live in New Jersey and are interested in becoming a foster parent, click here.
If you live elsewhere in the U.S. and are interested in becoming a foster parent, please visit this directory search or contact your local foster care agency.