Academic journal article Social Work Research

Foster Family Resources, Psychosocial Functioning, and Retention

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Foster Family Resources, Psychosocial Functioning, and Retention

Article excerpt

The chronic shortage of foster families is exacerbated by the fact that many families discontinue during the first year. This longitudinal study examined the effect of family resources and psychosocial problems on retention. Almost 50 percent of families who started preservice training did not complete it. Of the 131 families who completed training, 46 percent had already discontinued or planned to discontinue at six-months. Families with more resources, especially income, were more likely to continue. African American and single-parent families were less likely to continue, but not when controlling for income. Families with more psychosocial problems and fewer resources were more likely to express uncertainly about continuing. These results have important implications for recruitment and retention of foster families.

Key words: drop out; foster care; foster families; foster parents; retention


Three-fourths of the 568,000 children in foster Care live with foster families (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS], 2001). Even with the rise in the use of kinship homes, agencies place approximately two-thirds of children in nonkinship families (DHHS, 2001). However, national data based on reports from 38 states indicate that there were only 133,500 licensed nonkinship foster families (Child Welfare League of America [CWLA], 1998). Up to 40 percent of foster families discontinue fostering during the first year (Baring-Gould, Essick, Kleinkauf, & Miller, 1983; Casey Family Programs, 2000; Chamberlain, Moreland, & Reid, 1992; Pasztor & Wynne, 1995; Ryan, 1985; U.S. General Accounting Office [GAO], 1989), and another 20 percent plan to do so (Rhodes, Orme, & Buehler, 2001). Consequently, there is a chronic shortage of foster families.

Parenting competence in general and foster parenting ability in particular result from the cumulative effects of social and economic resources and parental and familial psychosocial functioning (Sameroff, Bartko, Baldwin, Baldwin, & Seifer, 1998; Seaberg & Harrigan, 1997, 1999). The number of family resources has been associated positively with willingness to provide placements for children with special needs and with measures of foster home utilization (Cox, Orme, & Rhodes, in press). However, little research exists concerning the effects of such resources or psychosocial functioning on families' decisions to foster. In addition, there is little research on what influences individuals to become foster parents (Baum, Crase, & Crase, 2001; Cox, Buehler, & Orme, 2002), and no earlier research on why some families discontinue fostering during the first year, despite documentation of high dropout rates during this time.


Only a small percentage of agency-recruited families ultimately become foster parents (Friedman, Lardieri, Murphy, Quick, & Wolfe, 1980; Rodwell & Biggerstaff, 1995; Siegel & Roberts, 1989). Many families discontinue after their first few contacts with agencies (Friedman et al., 1980) or self-select out during preservice training (Pasztor, 1985). Other families complete training then decide not to pursue fostering. Agencies eliminate some applicants because of age, poor health, criminal background, or other reasons. Yet, the percentage of rejected families is small compared with those who discontinue voluntarily before approval (Kadushin & Martin, 1988). Dropout before approval might screen out unsuitable applicants (Smith & Gutheil, 1988), but this has never been examined empirically.

What we know about why families discontinue fostering has come from a few cross-sectional studies. Some studies have found that foster parents were more likely to discontinue if they were dissatisfied with agency relationships or had poor communication with workers (Bating-Gould et al., 1983; Rhodes et al., 2001; Triseliotis, Borland, & Hill, 1998) or if they had concerns about children's behavior, children returning to undesirable circumstances, agency red tape, low reimbursement rates, or the fostering role (Denby & Rindfleisch, 1996; Rhodes et al. …

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