Foster Care Activity VS Foster Care Movement

Foster care activity and the faith community’s involvement in that activity has a long history in this country.  In recent years, however, a new kind of faith-based, grassroots effort has emerged from communities across the U.S.  Though the word “movement” is admittedly over-used in our culture, these efforts are best described as “local foster care movements.”  This is the first of a six part series on the difference between foster care activity and foster care movement. 

Foster care in the U.S. has evolved a great deal over the last 160+ years.  Charles Loring Brace, who was a minister and founder of the Children’s Aid Society, saw large numbers of homeless immigrant children in New York.  Starting in 1853, he began advertising across the country for families willing to take them in.  You will be most familiar with his work as described by the phrase “orphan trains.” As you would expect, some families welcomed children with benevolent motives and some did so for the labor.  Over time, agencies and state governments got involved in these placements. Some states implemented the practice of paying board payments to foster families and the idea of requiring licensure was introduced.  These services became more formalized and supervised in the early 1900s (National Foster Parent Association).  The first federal agency dedicated to issues of child welfare, The U.S. Children’s Bureau, was established in 1912.  The Social Security Act of 1935 provided provision of federal funds for the purpose of child protection.  

The establishment and ongoing development of the child welfare system has protected hundreds of thousands of children for well over 100 years.  The standard functions and activities of the child welfare system include but are not limited to:

  • Investigation of abuse and neglect allegations
  • Removal of children from a home where abuse or neglect allegations are substantiated
  • Provision of temporary care (foster care) for children who have been removed
  • Recruitment, training, licensure and oversight of foster families
  • Oversight and implementation of case plans with the primary objective of reunifying children with their caregivers whenever possible
  • Making recommendations to the court regarding next actions
  • Recruitment of adoptive families for children whose parental rights have been terminated by the courts
  • Managing the distribution of resources to caregivers within the system

It is important to first say that each of these activities is vitally important to the well-being of children.  Also, it will not come as a surprise to anyone (especially to those working in child welfare) to say that these activities are not always executed with excellence.  However, without them, our children would be worse off.

While the faith community has a long history of involvement in issues of child welfare, some new things have emerged from communities of faith around the country over the last two decades in particular.  They are grass roots, collaborative efforts that start outside of the system in the context of local churches but could not achieve the effectiveness they do without partnership with the child welfare system.  They are intensely local and comparatively inexpensive. Most importantly they are getting incredible results. These local faith-based foster care movements are seeing the recruitment, training and support of thousands of foster and adoptive families.  They are providing training and support for biological families trying to stay together and reunify and they are mobilizing hundreds of volunteers to support foster care who never knew before that they had a vital role to play.

As we’ve already said, foster care activity is incredibly important to the well-being of the most vulnerable children and families in our country and has been around for well over a hundred years.  But what would it look like if we were able to go from foster care activity in every county in the country to foster care movement? What would it look like for communities to see this problem as their own and do what it takes to make the foster care crisis a thing of the past?

Before we go any further, there is an important distinction to make here.  We are talking about making the foster care crisis a thing of the past, NOT making foster care a thing of the past.  Unfortunately, as long as there is brokenness in the world there will be a need for children to be protected, and in our country, the foster care system provides that.  We are not trying to end foster care. However, what could end in just a matter of years is the crisis that our system is in.  There is no reason kids need to be in care for so long. There is no reason for kids to be placed in foster homes that are not good for them.  There is no reason a child needs to wait for years (often in vain) for an adoptive family. There is no reason that biological families should be having to walk the journey of reunification alone.  There is no reason every family associated with foster care — foster, kinship, adoptive, or biological — shouldn’t have a minimum of 3 other families pulling for them and supporting them.  

But in order to make the foster care crisis a thing of the past, we have to move from foster care activity to foster care movement.

Over the next few weeks, we will take several blog posts to explore the differences between the two.  There are 5 primary ways in which foster care activity is different that foster care movement:

  1. Competition VS. Collaboration
  2. Strategies VS. Vision
  3. Adjustment VS. Change
  4. Agency Led Programming VS. Community Led Advocacy
  5. More VS. More than Enough

In the posts to come, we will take each one of these differences one by one and explore what each means for foster care transformation in the community where you live.  The actions you take now (and the way in which you take them) can have a profound impact on the history of child welfare in your community, in your state, and across the country.

NOTE: If you want to be a part of building a local movement that provides more than enough before, during, and beyond foster care in your county, get started by taking the 10-minute church foster care engagement assessment at  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