Challenges of Adoption and Foster Care Organizations

of one

Challenges of Adoption and Foster Care Organizations

Best Practices in Successful Placements

Two best practices for adoption and foster care agencies to create successful adoptions are the availability of a 24/7 contact and the use of evidence-based parental training programs.

Provide 24/7 Contact

  • Placements are more successful when foster and adoptive parents are provided with a 24/7 crisis support contact.
  • One program that offers continuous on-call support has a foster family retention rate of 97%, well above the national average.
  • The New Jersey Mobile Response and Stabilization Service offers behavioral health assistance to "any family anywhere in the state of New Jersey, at any time: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year." In doing so, the program has "maintained 94 percent of children in their living situation at the time of service, including children who are involved with the child welfare system."
  • Without this access to crisis services, children may need to be removed from the home and re-located to places like costly group homes or another foster-family, which can be more work and therefore more costly for case workers.

Evidence-Based Parental Training Programs

  • One best practice to ensure stable, successful placements for foster children and adoption is the availability of evidence-based programs that support the foster or adoptive parents.
  • One example is Treatment Foster Care Oregon (TFCO), which "treats adolescents, preschoolers, children, and youth with mental health issues who are in foster care. Designed to decrease negative behaviors while increasing positive social behavior, TFCO is shown to significantly increase successful placements and to decrease the number of placement moves."
  • Additionally, Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is a "parent-training program based on attachment and social learning theory that can be used in the foster care context for young children with emotional and behavioral challenges. PCIT has resulted in reductions in children’s behavioral problems at home and at school and risk for child physical abuse; improvements in how parents and caregivers listen, talk, and interact with their children, including reductions in corporal punishment and physically coercive parenting approaches and parental stress; and increased resource parent tolerance of child problems over time."
  • Studies have found that these types of interventions "increased chances of a positive exit (e.g., parent/child reunification) and mitigated the risk-enhancing effect of a history of multiple placements."
  • Multiple placements of children raises costs for child welfare agencies due to the increase in work-hours required for each placement. One study found that "each placement change required an average of over 25 hours of casework and support staff time to process the change of placement, including time in identifying and placing a child in a new setting, staff meetings, court reports, and accompanying paper work." Therefore, by decreasing the number of placements by offering an evidence-based training program, agencies can effectively reduce their cost.
  • Additionally, these training programs can improve the retention of foster families, of which only 40% continue after their first year. The National Council for Adoption found that "when trained parents continue to foster, it means a more stable foster care experience for the child, dramatically improved outcomes for our kids, and a substantial savings of fiscal dollars. To reverse the system’s terrible retention rates and prevent burnout, foster parents need smart support, peer encouragement, and cutting-edge training that sets realistic expectations."

Top Challenges for Foster Care Agencies

Four top challenges for foster care agencies, selected based on numerous expert mentions, are an increase in the number of foster children, limited funding for reunification, a lack of foster homes, and a national social worker shortage.

Increasing Number of Foster Children

  • The increase in the number of children needing foster care placements is putting a burden on foster agencies.
  • In a 2017 report, the US Dept of Health and Human Services reported an increase in the number of foster children in the US for a fourth year in a row. The increase is mostly due to the national drug abuse and opioid crisis, as well as an increase in child neglect (potentially stemming from that crisis).
  • The increase has helped create a lack of sufficient foster families, a need for increased funding, and larger caseloads for social workers.
  • Agencies are also developing programs designed specifically for families dealing with drug addiction "with the goal of decreasing the number of children having to enter care."

Limited Funding for Reunification

  • Foster care agencies have limited funding for reunification programs.
  • Due to a series of complicated funding requirements and incentives, the government now spends 10 times the amount on foster care and adoption than it does on reunification services.
  • The affect this has on foster agencies is a decrease in the number of reunifications (total reunification percentage dropped from 53% in 2007 to 49% in 2017) and an increase in the number of re-entrys from previous reunified families.

Lack of Foster Homes

  • The lack of foster homes in the US has been described as "a crisis level shortage." This lack of foster homes means that children will be placed in less-desired placements like hotels, residential shelters, or even left in questionable home environments.
  • The lack of homes is exacerbated by the fact that 60% of foster families quit after their first year, and even more quit after their second year.
  • In 2015, more than 56,000 children were in group home placements, which on average cost 10x more than family placement.
  • For agencies, this means social workers are having to spend more time recruiting foster families and identifying alternative placements for children rather than the more beneficial tasks of "family engagement, case planning, service coordination, and intervention delivery."
  • Additionally, lack of foster homes can contribute to "sibling separation, school changes, and placement instability."

National Social Worker Shortage

  • There is a national social worker shortage, especially in rural areas.
  • Experts state that the number of social worker jobs is growing by 11% over the next decade, and by 2025 there will be a lack of 10,000 full-time social workers.
  • The lack of social workers is caused by a combination of high educational requirements, a lack of funding for workers in rural areas, the complexity of the job, and the fact that many current social workers are nearing retirement age.
  • The shortage leads to "higher caseloads for child welfare workers, higher burnout and turnover, and decreased quality of services for children and families."

Top Challenges for Adoption Agencies

Four top challenges for adoption agencies, selected based on expert mentions, are an increase in the number of children waiting to be adopted from foster care, a decrease in international adoptions, high rates of behavioral and mental health challenges in children waiting to be adopted and the challenge of placing older children into adoptive families. Due to a limited amount of information available, challenges were determined by only one expert mention as long as data was available to illustrate the challenge. If no hard data was available, the challenge was mentioned by at least two credible sources.

Increase in the Number of Children Waiting to be Adopted

  • The number of children waiting to be adopted from foster care in the US increased from 123,800 in FY 2017 to 125,400 in FY 2018. In 2016, 116,508 children were waiting to be adopted from foster care.
  • Overall, the percentage of children in foster care with the goal of adoption increased to 27% in 2017 from 24% in 2007.
  • In order to deal with these increases, adoption agencies have increased recruitment efforts to find permanent placements and increased financial incentives for permanent placements, all of which mean more money being spent to try to find permanent placements for an increasingly large number of children.

Increasing International Challenges

  • International adoptions have decreased, due to increasing international restrictions.
  • The decrease in international adoptions has proved an insurmountable loss of income for some adoption agencies, which downsized. For example, "Virginia-based America World Adoption, which has offices in 21 states, has seen its caseload drop by more than 50 percent over a decade." As such, they decreased staff and have a longer processing time for adoptions to be completed.

Behavioral and Mental Health Problems

  • This can be challenging for agencies since these children require longer stays in foster care and increased pre- and post-adoption services including medication, and therefore these challenges increased the cost of caring for these children.


  • The average age of children waiting to be adopted in higher than that of those being adopted, meaning older children have a low likelihood of ever being adopted.
  • With older children being harder to place, agencies must care for them for longer periods of time and work harder to find a placement family. Additionally, children who age out of the system without being adopted are at higher risk for negative outcomes like "homelessness, unemployment, early parenting, substance abuse or incarceration" than those with families.