National Foster Care Month: Lessons Behind the Foster Care Data

I’m a “number’s guy.”

So, when I began to explore the needs of the foster care system, I wanted to understand the data behind the issue.

I just couldn’t help it.  Seeing the numbers gave me a constructive way to objectively analyze an otherwise, very emotional topic.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway’s Foster Care Statistics 2015, published in March 2017, provided a reputable resource for my study.

I found five pieces of data interesting – particularly as they relate to concerns I hear from prospective foster parents.

Concern #1:  It might be difficult to take in a child we’ve never met before.   

Data point #1:  Of the 427,910 children in foster care, 30% were living in a relative foster home.

Takeaway #1:

In about 1 in 3 cases, a family member has stepped in to care for a relative in need.

No other stat could better convey that a crisis can impact anyone’s extended family.  And, in these times of family struggle, relatives are often called to step up.

Take note: the level of training to be a relative foster parent varies from state-to-state, but, in all cases, some advanced preparation is required.

Exploring foster parenting as a way to help a family member with a sudden, (hopefully) temporary need, may be a measured and wise first step.

Concern #2:  Should I expect that a child I might foster will be returned to their parents?

Data point #2:  51% of foster children will be reunified with their parents or primary caregivers.

Takeaway #2:

Whether or not the foster child will ultimately be reunited with their biological family is a “coin-flip” – a 50/50 proposition.  Dealing with that level of uncertainty is difficult but necessary for any family considering fostering.

Acknowledging such uncertainty is the first step in confirming it as a certainty.

The proposition of seeing a child leave your home is tough, no doubt.  But imagine them NOT having that chance.

Concern #3:  I’m not sure how long a foster relationship might last. 

Data point #3: The median length of stay for foster children is 13.5 months.  74% of foster kids spend less than two years in the foster care system.

Takeaway #3:

The facts tell me that foster parents should ready themselves for providing a safe and nurturing environment for a child for, on average, a two-year period.

Thinking in shorter terms might feel odd with a child.  But, such thinking can help in breaking up the desire to foster into more management, micro-steps designed at maximizing the time you have, rather than lamenting that it is not enough.

Concern #4:  I know very little about raising teens, my kids are in elementary school. 

Data point #4:  The median age of kids in the foster care system was 7.8 years; and 6.3 years for children entering the system.

Takeaway #4:

There is certainly a need for families to consider fostering older children.  But, if that is not within your current comfort zone, the numbers say that the majority of the children entering care are between kindergarten and fourth grade.

I have children in elementary, and that statistic tells me that the average-aged foster kid needs more than a home structure – they need support, they need security and they need to see someone making an effort on their behalf.

These kids need adult guidance at this pivotal point in life where their self-images are being formed.

Concern #5:  Am I prepared to cope with cultural differences of potential foster kids?

Data point #5:  Kids in foster care are 43% white, 24% black, 21% Hispanic and 12% other.

Takeaway #5:

Minority groups are not the majority of foster kids in America.  Foster care and adoption is not a racial issue, it is an American problem – all ethnic groups are represented.

There is a need no matter your family’s background or comfort level with other cultures.

Yes, I’m a “number’s guy” – and seeing the data first-hand is sobering.

But, numbers can serve as a cover – a way to eliminate emotion from topics where feelings shouldn’t be excluded.

I’ve heard, as you likely have, that the number of kids in foster care is growing, and that the need for families is reaching a tipping point.

It’s true – but don’t let the numbers fan the flames of doubt.

Rather, apply the data to the concerns you have.

Then, find a foster family that loves one of the 427,910 children you’ve just studied.

Next, just ask them about their experiences.

They likely had the same concerns before making the brave choice to get past the objective data and act.

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