Foster Parents' Reasons for Fostering and Foster Family Utilization

Article excerpt

Better utilization of foster families might be linked to parents" reasons for fostering. This study used data from the National Survey of Current and Former Foster Parents to examine relationships between reasons for fostering and types of services and length of service foster parents provide. Top reasons for fostering were child-centered. The least endorsed reasons were self-oriented. Those who fostered to help children with special problems were more likely to have a child placed, had more children, and had fostered more types of special needs children. Parents who fostered because their children were grown were more likely to have a child placed, had more children, and were more likely to intend to continue fostering. Conversely, parents who wanted to be loved or who wanted companionship fostered fewer children. Implications for improving foster family utilization are discussed.

Key words: foster parent, motivation, utilization


Foster families have a critical role in child welfare as resources for children who need temporary out-of-home care and as resources for adoptive children. Approximately 70 percent of the estimated 532,000 U. S. children in foster care live with foster families (U. S. Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS], 2004). Even with the rise in kinship care, 65 percent of foster home placements are with non-relative foster families. Foster parents adopt the majority of children adopted through foster care (DHHS, 2004) and 20 percent of adopted children live in family foster homes (Barth, Gibbs, & Siebenaler, 2001).

Child welfare agencies face continual challenges to maintain adequate numbers of family foster homes (DHHS, 2002a, 2002b). Underutilization of licensed foster homes creates additional demands on systems already straining to recruit families. One-fifth of foster families provide 60 to 80 percent of placements (Gibbs, 2004). Approximately one-third of homes do not have placements at any one given time (DHHS, 1993; Gibbs, 2004; Kriener & Kazmerzak, 1995; Maine Foster Parent Association, 1994). Many foster parents never accept placements because they are unwilling to care for children with special needs or teens (Cox, Orme, & Rhodes, 2002; DHHS, 2002a). Twenty to 25 percent of foster parents quit each year (Casey Family Programs, 2000; Gibbs, 2004) and another quarter express uncertainty about continuing (Iowa Foster Recruitment and Retention Project, 2002; Denby, Rindfleisch, & Bean, 1999; Rhodes, Orme, & Buehler, 2001; Rhodes, Orme, Cox, & Buehler, 2003). Almost half of foster parents quit within a year of their first placement (Gibbs, 2004).

Part of the problem is engaging and encouraging foster parents to stay as long-term partners with agencies and to care for the types of children who need foster care placements (DHHS, 1993; DHHS, 2002b). However, little is known about how foster parents' reasons for fostering relate to foster home utilization. That is the purpose of this study.

Foster Family Utilization

The National Survey of Current and Former Foster Parents (NSC&FFP) (DHHS, 1993) provides the most extensive data on foster families from a national probability sample. The NSC&FFP (DHHS, 1993) estimated that there were approximately 131,100 licensed family foster homes in 1991 when the survey was conducted. The average family was licensed to care for 3.1 foster children, and so theoretically there were placements available for 406,400 children. At approximately the same time there were 404,000 foster children (Tatara, 1997).

While these estimates suggest an adequate number of family foster homes, closer examination of utilization patterns tells a different story. At the time of the survey, 35 percent of foster families did not have any children placed. Foster families who did have children placed had an average of 2.2 foster children, although the average licensed capacity was 3. …