12 Sep The Crisis in the Foster System – Part 1
The foster system is in crisis. In every state, at every level, in almost every area, children are not receiving the care they need. These children deserve the opportunity to thrive, not just survive. They are in the welfare system through no fault of their own, and they deserve dignity and compassion.
It is our hope that knowing what is behind the crisis will motivate you to want to do your part to help solve the problem.
Lack of available foster homes
While there is an increasing number of children needing foster care, the number of homes available is decreasing. This crisis is not specific to our state, there is a nationwide shortage of foster homes. For those who have any knowledge about the foster system, this comes as no surprise. According to Serita Cox, CEO and co-founder of iFoster, “We are in a massive crisis. and that crisis means that we have kids living in casinos or living in an office building or living in juvenile hall when they’ve done nothing” (2). Kids are staying in hospitals and mental health facilities – even when their situation does not require it – due to a lack of homes available. There are even occasions where kids are living in emergency rooms.
Read that last sentence again. Kids living in emergency rooms is unacceptable.
What creates circumstances that would necessitate these living conditions for displaced children?
Foster parent turnover
The national average annual turnover for foster parents is 30-50% (1).
Why don’t foster parents stick around?
Being a foster parent is difficult by any standards. Families are not just taking on the task of providing food, clothes, shelter, and love. They are also expected to keep up required training, handle medical and mental health visits, court and parental visits, and help the biological family work towards reunification.
Keep in mind that every child comes into foster care with a degree of trauma. Simply being removed from their home creates trauma regardless of the reason. This can be an added layer of struggle if the foster parents are not trained in this area. Families typically aren’t trained to deal with trauma and, therefore, often do not feel equipped to deal with the mental and emotional needs of the children placed in their care. The expectation is that foster parents are to provide any and every kind of support that the children in their care need. But many times they need their own support and encouragement.
Caregivers who were surveyed about their experience as foster parents said they did not feel valued or respected. They didn’t feel like a valued member of the foster care team even though they are providing perhaps the most meaningful support for the child in foster care. In another survey, some families said they felt they were not getting the help they needed during times of stress or burnout – especially as they were experiencing the feeling of loss and grief once a child left their care. Many also suggested they felt they were not receiving adequate support from caseworkers (3).
The lack of support is a very genuine experience for many foster families, but why is it happening? Frontline workers are often doing the best they can, but they are experiencing their own crisis
Frontline worker turnover
As with foster families, there is a national average annual turnover of 30-50% among caseworkers (3). When you consider this statistic, it makes sense that foster parents would not feel they are receiving adequate support. Likely the child or children they are fostering have multiple changes in caseworkers during their time in care.
Why are caseworkers leaving?
These frontline workers are overworked and underpaid. They do not have adequate support either. In addition to their caseloads far exceeding the state and federal guidelines, their demands also exceed their abilities to give adequate attention and care. In addition, because placements are constantly changing, their caseloads are constantly in a state of flux.
In short, according to John DeGarmo of Foster Care Institute – caseworkers are overworked, overwhelmed, under-resourced, under-supported, understaffed, and underpaid (3).
This concludes part 1 of this 2-part series about the crisis in the foster system. Please be sure to read the next post which will highlight poverty and mental health.
- DeGarmo, J. (2021) The Foster Care Crisis: The shortage of foster parents in America, American SPCC. Available at: https://americanspcc.org/the-foster-care-crisis-the-shortage-of-foster-parents-in-america/ (Accessed: 12 September 2023).
- The failures and future of the U.S. foster care system (2023) The Policy Circle. Available at: https://www.thepolicycircle.org/brief/thefailures-and-future-of-the-u-s-foster-caresystem/#:~:text=System%2Dwide%20Problems&text=Overall%2C%20there%20is%20a%20need,quit%20within%20the%20first%20y ear (Accessed: 12 September 2023).
- Foster Care in America: Realities, challenges and solutions (2023) KVC Health Systems. Available at: https://www.kvc.org/blog/fostercare-in-america/ (Accessed: 12 September 2023).