On the First National Foster Parent Appreciation Day, Let’s Celebrate and Support Foster Parents

Posted May 29, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
National Foster Parent Day celebrates foster parents

We know that every kid needs a fam­i­ly and that chil­dren in fam­i­lies have the best chance to thrive.

We also know that many hun­dreds of thou­sands of kids, over the course of grow­ing up, find them­selves in search of new per­ma­nent homes — a fact that has been high­light­ed each May for three decades through Nation­al Fos­ter Care Month.

A pri­ma­ry focus dur­ing this month of events is the chil­dren them­selves: their invalu­able lives and their bound­less human poten­tial. There were more than 420,000 chil­dren in fos­ter care in 2016, a num­ber that has risen every year since 2012. But this recog­ni­tion has large­ly missed a group of peo­ple crit­i­cal to the suc­cess of those chil­dren: the fos­ter par­ents who step in tem­porar­i­ly when kids can­not live with their own parents.

This year, for the first time, the con­gres­sion­al res­o­lu­tion declar­ing May as Nation­al Fos­ter Care Month also des­ig­nates the last day of the month (May 31) as Nation­al Fos­ter Par­ent Appre­ci­a­tion Day. Many Amer­i­cans, espe­cial­ly in places where the opi­oid cri­sis has had a major impact on the local com­mu­ni­ty, have been read­ing about increas­es in the num­bers of chil­dren who need fos­ter care. Even in com­mu­ni­ties not as affect­ed by sub­stance dis­or­ders, the demand for high-qual­i­ty fos­ter par­ents is always high.

Here are three things you might not know about fos­ter par­ents and the essen­tial role they play, and three things pol­i­cy­mak­ers should know about how social ser­vice agen­cies can encour­age vol­un­teers to become fos­ter par­ents and sup­port them when they do.

About fos­ter parents

  • Fos­ter par­ents are ordi­nary peo­ple who find a way to do extra­or­di­nary things for kids in cri­sis. Fos­ter par­ents care for these kids, doing their best to cre­ate the sta­ble envi­ron­ment and nor­mal expe­ri­ences that young peo­ple need as they grow up.
  • Some fos­ter par­ents are relat­ed to the chil­dren in their care: they might be grand­par­ents or oth­er kin who step up to fill a fam­i­ly need. (About 140,000 kids in fos­ter care were liv­ing with a fam­i­ly mem­ber in 2016, and that num­ber has been increas­ing since 2009.) Oth­er fos­ter par­ents are not rel­a­tives: near­ly 200,000 chil­dren were in the tem­po­rary care of non-rel­a­tive fos­ter par­ents. Whether they tem­porar­i­ly live with oth­er rel­a­tives or fos­ter par­ents, more than half of kids in fos­ter care are even­tu­al­ly reunit­ed with their parents.
  • Grow­ing and sus­tain­ing a net­work of lov­ing fos­ter par­ents is a per­pet­u­al con­cern. Fos­ter par­ent­ing can be chal­leng­ing, and fos­ter par­ents deserve sup­port so they can care for kids in some of the most dif­fi­cult times.

Doing right by fos­ter parents

  • It is impor­tant for state and local agen­cies to pro­vide both robust train­ing before some­one becomes a fos­ter par­ent as well as ongo­ing tar­get­ed oppor­tu­ni­ties beyond the ini­tial expe­ri­ence. Fos­ter par­ents are bet­ter posi­tioned to suc­ceed when there are staff spe­cial­iz­ing in parental sup­port and when fos­ter par­ents can access a net­work of peers for prac­ti­cal advice and emo­tion­al encouragement.
  • Pol­i­cy­mak­ers should ensure that agen­cies have a man­date to nur­ture strong rela­tion­ships with fos­ter par­ents. That can hap­pen by includ­ing fos­ter par­ents in key process­es, pro­vid­ing suf­fi­cient resources, respect­ing their deci­sion mak­ing about the chil­dren in their care and demon­strat­ing that they are val­ued and appreciated.
  • We depend on agen­cies to be inno­v­a­tive and cre­ative in their efforts to iden­ti­fy new fos­ter par­ents and to make the process of becom­ing a fos­ter par­ent more effi­cient. For exam­ple, they can estab­lish part­ner­ships with faith com­mu­ni­ties and use new tech­nolo­gies to match chil­dren and fos­ter par­ents. Law­mak­ers and agency heads can make licens­ing stan­dards and process­es flex­i­ble where pos­si­ble, from using mobile fin­ger­print­ing sys­tems to mak­ing train­ing pro­grams con­ve­nient for poten­tial fos­ter par­ents who work.

These are a few ways that our sys­tems can sup­port fos­ter par­ents and, in turn, pro­mote high-qual­i­ty care. There are also things we can all do. From city coun­cils and school boards that rec­og­nize these fam­i­lies to busi­ness own­ers who offer fos­ter par­ents dis­counts to neigh­bors who lend a help­ing hand — com­mu­ni­ties can cel­e­brate fos­ter fam­i­lies through­out the year.

With­out ques­tion, though, Amer­i­ca needs some­thing extra­or­di­nary from more ordi­nary peo­ple. If you have con­sid­ered becom­ing a fos­ter par­ent, I urge you to look into it fur­ther. There’s no bet­ter time to do so than this moment, as we rec­og­nize the tens of thou­sands of peo­ple who are cur­rent­ly fos­ter par­ents for every­thing they do. The dif­fer­ence you can make in the life of a child will be beyond measure.

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