This is the final post of a four part series on what it means when we say we are aiming for more than enough before, during and beyond foster care in every county in the country. Here’s a quick review the four facets of more than enough…
- More than enough foster and kinship families for every child to have an ideal placement (first post)
- More than enough adoptive families for every child waiting for adoption (second post)
- More than enough help for biological families trying to stabilize and reunify (third post)
- More than enough wrap-around support from the church for foster, kinship, adoptive and biological families (this week’s post)
There is a considerable breach in the structure of our water-carrying apparatus.
Well . . . fix it.
When it comes to great foster families for kids, there is, in fact, a hole in the bucket. According to the National Council for Adoption, “Of the estimated 200,000 licensed foster homes, between 30–60% of foster parents drop out of foster parenting each year.”
Generally speaking, we have made the recruitment of new foster families a higher priority than keeping the ones we have. When you ask foster care advocates and child welfare professionals what they need, they inevitably say that we need more families. In fact, a large percentage of news articles that come across my Google alert feed about foster care note the desperate need for more families.
In a 2018 article, Jenn Rexroad noted: “Just as you would not begin filling the bathtub without first stopping the drain, the retention of resource families (foster families) should be addressed prior to or in tandem with recruitment . . . In the marketplace, no business would invest in recruiting until retention was addressed.”
According to a study cited by a 2018 Forbes article, “it can cost five times more to attract a new customer, than it does to retain an existing one.” Our foster care system would experience enormous transformation if we could hold on to a much greater percentage of our existing foster families. In order to do that, we need to better understand exactly why they are leaving.
While parenting children from hard places can be daunting, when asked why they are leaving the system, foster parents’ answers are often much more about the system itself as opposed to a child’s behavior. Many foster parents feel powerless, taken for granted and left without adequate training. They long to be a greater part of the decision making process and be seen as a valued member of a child’s support system rather than just a housing provider. While actually changing these realities within the system is vital, it’s not the only way to help foster families stick it out. People are generally pretty good at enduring hard things when they do not feel alone. When we as the church wrap around our families we provide the strength they need to keep going. The best foster families are supported foster families.
Promise 686 is an organization in Georgia that trains and equips churches to wrap around families and provide the support they need. Just as an example, in one county where they operate, the traditional rate of retention for a foster family beyond one year is about 50% (this is a common retention rate in other places as well). However, for the families being supported by their churches, the retention rate is 90%.
According to the Children’s Bureau, “One study demonstrated a significant relationship between the use of post-adoption services and positive family outcomes (Reilly & Platz, 2004). In particular, parents with children with special needs who received informal support services (e.g., support groups) and financial support reported higher satisfaction with parenting than those families who did not receive those services and supports.”
The truth is, if we rallied the troops in our churches to support foster families (something, by the way, that A LOT more people are willing to do than become foster parents) our recruitment problem would reduce dramatically. Every foster family we retain is one foster family we don’t have to recruit. This same kind of wrap-around support is just as vital for our kinship, adoptive and biological families. The wonderful thing is that our churches are already beautifully positioned to provide this kind of support for families. We simply have to help our church members understand clearly what really helps, what really doesn’t and how they can get started. Most people are willing to help when there is clarity about what exactly is needed. Asking someone to generally “help out” is much less effective than asking them to babysit on Thursday morning at 9:00 while foster mom attends a court hearing. People want to help, they usually just don’t know how. In the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Dan and Chip Heath share an incredible insight that I think about all the time: “What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.” Yes.
More than enough wrap-around support for foster, kinship, adoptive, and biological families would mean that NO ONE walks through foster care alone. When said that way, it seems like it should be a non-negotiable. No one should ever have to navigate something so difficult, so heartbreaking, so worthy, and so beautiful all alone.
NOTE: If you believe that more than enough before, during, and beyond foster care is possible in your county, be sure to sign the MORE THAN ENOUGH declaration at MoreThanEnoughTogether.org. More Than Enough is a collaborative movement facilitated by the CAFO community.
This post originally appeared in our Foster Roster e-newsletter which is delivered each Friday. We keep it short and sweet and fill it with practical articles, videos, blog posts and other tools for leaders like you working to help kids and families in foster care. To sign up, go to http://bit.ly/1rwn6eO.