A recently published study revealed that the U.S. foster care system is showing a worrying disconnect between the number of youths in the system and the number of available homes. In some areas of the foster care system, Connecticut has experienced improvements, but the need for more foster homes continues to be a problem.
The Chronicle of Social Change (CSC), a daily news publication devoted to issues affecting youth, collected data from around the country on the foster care system. The focus was placed on the number of youths currently in the system, the number of beds available in licensed foster homes and on the number of homes in general. The statistics gathered were compared between the years 2012 and 2017, as 2012 was the first notable spike in the population of youths in foster care.
Key findings of the study show that at least half of the states in the country have had decreased foster care capacity between 2012 and 2017. These states either have more youths in the foster program and fewer beds, or a slight increase in beds joined by a notable increase in fostered youths.
There have also been localized shortfalls in some states, requiring youths to be sent much further from their homes. Even in states where a substantial effort has been made to increase the number of available beds, the foster population continues to surpass it.
Some states have increased reliance on kinship care (sending foster youths to relatives), but the growth on that front has been comparatively small.
Connecticut, in particular, had 4,563 youths in foster care in 2012. This dropped to 3,908 in 2015, about a 14 percent improvement, but then increased to 4,402 in 2017, nearly returning to where it originally was. The number of youths in non-relative foster homes in 2012 was 2,377, which dropped by about 19 percent to 1,921 in 2017. Placing these statistic sets side-by-side, it is very easy to see the decrease in foster homes available to accommodate the growing youth population.
Editor-in-chief of CSC, John Kelly, spoke about these findings. “[CSC] embarked on this research because of an odd trend we noticed: after a long period before 2012 in which the number of youths in foster care went down, the federal data have shown since then that that number has only risen. Our basic question was this: what was going on with the supply of foster homes? What is the capacity of these states to take kids in as the numbers increase?”
When asked for his analysis of the Connecticut data, Kelly said the number of licensed homes has gone down significantly. At the same time, Connecticut is one of the states that have most dramatically increased the percentage of foster youths placed with relatives. The numbers we collected are supported by what’s called the “Child and Family Services Review [CFSR], a periodic assessment of states by the Department of Health and Human Services. In the second round of the CFSR in 2008, they noted a severe shortage of foster homes, and those numbers continued to go down.
“The most alarming thing I saw in the CFSR was from the third round of Connecticut’s review, a comment by the stakeholders that were interviewed for the assessment.”
The comment reads as follows: “It is difficult to close foster homes, even when an abuse or neglect investigation is substantiated, due to the shortage of foster home placement stability and to achieve adoptions in a timely manner.”
“It’s hard to stop a foster parent from getting kids referred to them,” Kelly continued, “even when it has been proven that that foster parent committed abuse or neglect. I don’t know how you could look at that and not see it as a point of concern that there aren’t enough foster parents.”
When asked if the research was leading to a solution of some sort, Kelly replied that it was not exactly their goal to come to some grand conclusion on what ought to be done, but to shine a light on the current problem: that there is neither federal collection of this information nor much good data in general.
“We wanted to try to put the numbers behind it and see where states were in terms of bringing in new homes and maintaining the ones they have. My hope is that this will be the beginning of the conversation about how best to recruit more homes while ensuring their quality. It’s also not only about bringing in new families but keeping the ones you have. We need to listen to foster parents and associations and hear why some of them are no longer available or leaving the foster care network.”
The Director of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, Gary Kleeblatt, feels that contrary to the study’s findings there have been a number of improvements in Connecticut. “We actually have 10 percent fewer kids in foster care, which is a good thing, as being in foster care can be traumatic. We have also reduced the number of children in an institutional setting by two-thirds. Finally, we’ve doubled the use of relatives and kin for children in care. There are certainly still improvements we’d like to see, but there have been steps to make the system better,” Kleeblatt said.
Nonetheless, the Department is always seeking to recruit prospective foster parents and adoptive parents who have the ability to provide a loving and caring home. “We have a need in particular for families for teenagers, sibling groups, children with complex medical needs and children of color,” Kleeblatt said adding, “Foster parents and adoptive parents tell us that they do it because they find it very emotionally rewarding and satisfying when they develop a relationship with a child like this. It can be challenging and hard, and really, any parent will tell you that, but it’s also wonderful and imparts a lot of joy onto the kids and the parents.”
According to the Connecticut Department of Children and Family’s foster adoption website, there is currently a seven-step process to becoming a foster guardian.
- An interested family or individual inquiries into becoming a foster family/parent.
- The interested party attends an open house to obtain information and submits to a preliminary background check.
- The party is visited at home to assess its environment and is asked about their motivations to become licensed, among other questions.
- Training in Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education (PRIDE) as part of licensure assessment (5-10 weeks).
- Follow-up home visits and interviews, plus a mutual assessment.
- The party officially receives a license to provide care to children entering the Department’s care.
- After licensure, the party is assigned a support worker, and must regularly attend support groups, post-license training and CAFAP (Connecticut Alliance of Foster and Adoptive Families) support services.
If you are interested in becoming a licensed foster or adoptive parent, please call 1-888-KID-HERO (1-888-543-4376 #1).