Foster Care - Insights and Challenges

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Foster Care - Insights and Challenges

Challenges Faced by Foster Parents

1. Licensing and Process Challenges
  • From the beginning, foster parents may have to overcome many process and regulatory challenges that come along with being a foster parent. First, foster parents must obtain a license and be approved as foster parents by the state, which requires a number of steps and jumping through hoops. "The process varies by state, but in most cases foster parents must attend classes, complete a home study, and ensure their homes meet licensing standards. The home study process may involve extensive interviews about everything from the foster family’s financial situation to the foster parents’ upbringing. This process is meant to ensure that foster parents are stable in terms of their health, finances, and relationships so they can provide a safe home." In addition, the parents may need to provide a background check and references. A home inspection may be conducted, and repairs may be necessary if the home does not meet the state's standards.
  • Even if foster parents make it through these steps and get approved to bring foster children into their home, they continue to be required to adhere to a number of rules and regulations, which can be quite restrictive. "For example, medication and alcohol may need to be stored in locked cabinets. Children in foster care might not be allowed to go on boats or attend overnight visits at other people’s homes. Children in foster care also might not be allowed out of state. And they may not be able to be left with a friend or family member, even for a short period of time. They may have to be placed in a licensed daycare only—which may make an out-of-state vacation impossible as foster parents may not have childcare." These regulations can place a burden on the foster family. In addition, foster parents are typically not the child's legal guardian, meaning that for anything requiring a legal guardian the foster parent must contact the legal guardian and make arrangements. This can make even simple things, like getting a permission slip signed for a field trip, quite difficult.
2. Burnout
  • "If you are feeling exhausted, run down, depressed, unmotivated, hopeless or powerless, or even feel like running away, you may be experiencing burn out." Burnout is a common challenge faced by foster parents as the work of foster parenting can be physically and emotionally exhausting, with little time for rest or for self-care. Like all parenting, foster parenting is time-consuming. In addition, foster children are often dealing with challenges themselves as they cope with the trauma that resulted in their being placed in foster care. As the foster parents try to cope with this and help the children manage it, they can become emotionally exhausted. One study found that 33% of foster parents reported that they felt the training on how to cope with burnout was inadequate.
  • Experts in the field recommend that foster parents make time for themselves, away from their foster children, as much as possible to prevent burnout. Adopt US Kids recommends that parents hire a babysitter to take time away, or take advantage of respite care programs that are available in many states for foster parents. "Respite care is short-term care of a child in order to give the regular caregiver a break. Each state or county has its own procedures for foster parents to get respite care." The Child Welfare Information Gateway has a list of respite care resources, as does the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center.
  • In addition, experts recommend that foster parents adjust their lifestyle as needed if they are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted. Dietary changes and exercise can help reduce stress. Further, foster parents can seek the help and solidarity of foster parent support groups.
3. Reunification or Separation
  • The ultimate goal of the foster system is first to reunite the foster children with their biological parents, and secondarily to get the children adopted into a permanent home. In addition, there is a lot of uncertainty in the foster care system and children can b relocated for a number of reasons. Due to these reasons, foster parents often face the challenge of being separated from their foster children. This may be a difficult transition and a painful separation for everyone involved. If it's a case of reunification, the foster parents may be worried that the child will end up in an unsafe environment again. And in any case, the foster parents may experience grief and other difficult emotions when they are separated from the foster child(ren). In many cases, the foster parents may no longer have contact with the child after they leave their home, and may not even know what happens to the child after that point, which can add to the grief and worry the foster parent may experience.
  • "Foster families who take in several children in foster care may experience frequent disruptions to their family life. Children in foster care may constantly come and go—and sometimes kids who previously moved out may move back in if their new placement doesn't work out."
  • Some experts advocate for structural changes to the foster care system that would create more stability for everyone involved. On the individual level, foster parents can take advantage of resources such as foster parent support groups, grief counseling, and respite care.

Adoption Rates

  • According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 61,000 foster children were adopted in 2018. Of those, 51% were adopted by their foster parents.
  • There are a total of 437,000 children in the US foster care system, meaning that the number adopted by their foster parents only represents 7% of the total (0.51x61,000/437,000=0.07). Of those 437,000, only 125,000 are actually eligible for adoption; so of those 125,000, 25% were adopted by their foster parents (0.51x61,000/125,000=0.25).


  • The National Foster Parents Association is an advocacy group for foster parents. Their mission is "to be a respected national voice for foster, kinship, and adoptive families through networking, education, and advocacy." Their activities include advocacy; education and training; providing services and support to foster families; and promoting a positive image of family foster care.
  • The Child Welfare Information Gateway provides a collection of resources for foster parents and families. This organization "promotes the safety, permanency, and well-being of children, youth, and families by connecting child welfare, adoption, and related professionals as well as the public to information, resources, and tools covering topics on child welfare, child abuse and neglect, out-of-home care, adoption, and more." The organization also provides an interactive map of state-by-state resources for foster families.
  • Sesame Street in Communities is an organization supporting foster families and care providers through resources and partnerships. "Sesame Street in Communities builds on our almost 50-year commitment to addressing kids’ developmental, physical, and emotional needs. Our time-tested research model and thorough testing with families and providers ensures that these resources have a measurable impact in the lives of parents and children." The organization also has local partnerships and collaboration to reach families.