The need for foster parents continues to rise as our nation’s opioid epidemic escalates to new heights. With the daily influx of children coming into foster care, many states are seeing a rise in the need for foster parents. The situation has become quite dire for most states, many not having enough beds for children and having little recourse. The question for each state becomes how to tackle this problem efficiently and realistically. With this, states are even updating the way that they advertise in order to attract new foster parents and to be more aggressive with their advertisements. These advanced methods may be coming from a place of desperation as social workers are finding it difficult to recruit new families at a pace that is fast enough to keep up with the influx of children coming into care.

It is also difficult to entice new foster parents when there are so many myths about foster care in the media. The media tends to portray worst-case scenarios. According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, the number of children entering foster care dramatically increases yearly while the number of available foster homes continues to decrease.

 The issue of lack of foster homes goes much deeper than just a lack of interest. The foster care system is overwhelmed with the influx of new cases and this makes it difficult to make the recruitment of new foster families a priority.

Even when recruitment efforts are made, Pew noted that many families report not getting their questions answered or not being able to reach social workers to address concerns. This is enough to turn off a large number of families from completing classes and committing to a journey on which they will seemingly have a shallow support system.

While recruitment efforts have evolved to fit the times, correcting an overwhelmed system will take much more than a digital influence and a new pitch. More foster families are needed to support the system, yet these families are feeling the lack of support and backing down before even getting started. It is truly a double-edged sword where both sides need to support one another, but neither can function wholly on their own to get the system back on the proper footing.

According to Pew, Oklahoma has begun to implement new incentives to entice people to become foster parents. These incentives can be offered by employers and local businesses that offer discounts to foster parents. Governor Mary Fallin instituted a new program in 2015 that allowed for these recruitment practices in an effort to fix a system that she recognized was almost irreparably broken. This program even offered incentives to child placing agencies that recruited the most families. This program saw an increase of 3,000 new foster parents directly recruited from these efforts. Programs like this one can work given the time and the proper execution.

Pew also noted that Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio instituted a public awareness campaign aimed at recruiting foster parents. Ohio has seen a 38 percent increase in children coming into foster care in the last five years. This is thought to be due to how heavily prevalent the opioid crisis is within Ohio’s borders. DeWine also shortened the length of time it takes for foster parents to obtain their certification, highlighting that Ohio’s government understands that their state is experiencing a foster care crisis.

Pew also highlighted the state of Rhode Island who took aim at battling the crisis at hand by revolutionalizing the licensing process to become a foster parent. The Governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, saw the issue at hand and introduced a much more streamlined licensing process that saw new foster parents being licensed within a 90-120 day period.

In fact, most of the licensing requirements are now covered by “recruitment weekends” that allow prospective foster parents to complete about 75 percent of their licensing within one weekend. The new process ensures that the requirements and time become a foster parent is not quite as daunting. It also helps prospective parents to not lose interest in becoming a foster parent along the way. These shortened licensing procedures also help greatly in cases of kinship care, where families may find their own family members being placed with them in an emergency situation. Shortening the licensing period and providing more in-depth training and support are key components in maintaining foster families.

Other programs instituted to help entice new foster families are those programs that focus on supporting foster families after children have been placed with them and long into the journey. States such as Massachusetts have hired former foster parents and trauma coaches to visit current foster families to offer additional support. These support persons can be helpful to aid in the general support of the parents as well as be available to provide advice and resources for children experiencing trauma. In Florida, foster parents have access to the Foster Family Support Program which gives them 24/7 access to on-call support for their foster care journey. Programs like these are so important as it can be incredibly difficult to know where to turn in various situations that may arise while fostering a child. Providing continuing support is crucial to maintaining and recruiting foster families.

Pew also highlighted Donna Edwards, wife of Governor Edwards, who is advocating for churches and businesses to rally behind foster families in a variety of ways. As with each state instituting programming, Louisiana wants to ensure that its foster parents feel supported and encouraged throughout the entirety of their foster care journey. She encourages churches to look out for foster families and find ways to support them. This support may look like donations from businesses or service projects to help ensure that each foster family has the support and necessities that they need to thrive. Her hope is that utilizing these support systems that are already in place will increase the support available to foster parents in Louisiana exponentially, setting a great example for support of foster care on the national level.

The shortage of foster parents cannot only be seen through numbers but through the additional trauma, children have to face when they are pulled from their homes only to find they have nowhere to go. According to an article by WAMU, children in the D.C. area are finding themselves sleeping in the offices of child services as there are simply not enough homes in which to place them. Those sleeping in these offices are typically older children who have already gone through extensive trauma. These children are often older and have been through this type of rejection and displacement before, sometimes on multiple occasions. The experience of knowing that they have nowhere to go only adds to the trauma and further fuels the pain of being removed from their homes.

A lack of foster homes is also leading to children slipping through the cracks of the child welfare system, attempting to figure out how to navigate the lack of placement opportunities. Aubrey Edwards-Luce of the Children’s Law Center told WAMU that they are seeing children not removed from homes where violence and other trauma has occurred because there is nowhere to place these children. These children would likely have otherwise been removed had social services had homes in which to place them. Therefore, these children are left in harm’s way instead because the system that was meant to protect them is not capable of providing that protection without enough foster families to go around. This reality is unacceptable to many within the system and the leadership in many states. Many leaders are vowing to make changes to provide more support to a failing system.

Sheryl Chapman of the National Center for Children and Families further told WAMU that there is a need for at least 40-50 new foster openings in the coming year to accommodate the children coming into care. The issue is not only having enough homes for children coming into care but having enough foster parents who are qualified to handle a variety of cases such as children entering with extreme trauma, special needs, etc. These cases are often the hardest place and also many times the most prevalent. Without foster parents who are trained and willing to take these children into their homes, many of these children are left languishing without proper care until the care can be obtained.

Older children also have a more difficult time finding placement than younger children. Foster parents can typically note what ages of children they will accept into their home and many often opt for younger children. While these families are still needed, it leaves a great lack of homes for children who are older and may have been in the system the longest. Placing children with more needs into homes requires not only more foster parents willing to step up to the plate, but more foster parents devoted to taking on more training and spending more time to provide placements for all children.

WAMU reported that over half of all states were at full capacity through 2012-2017 and the numbers are only growing. The opioid crisis is nationwide and continues to see children placed into care if family members cannot be identified to take them in. As this epidemic grows, the distress placed on the foster care system will only get worse. It will take programs like the ones instituted in places like Louisiana, Rhode Island, and Ohio to make the difference. The incentives that these states are offering are proof that the leadership in those states see the dire nature of the issue at hand. As more states follow suit with states like Massachusetts to offer ongoing support to foster parents, retaining and bringing in more foster parents will be much easier. Until then, the child welfare system will have to find inventive ways to handle the overloaded system and ensure the well-being of those they seek to protect.

There are many ways you can support foster parents. If you know foster families in your area, reach out to see what needs they might have. It can be something as simple as making a meal, helping with a monetary need, or enlisting others for a service project such as a home improvement. If you are not quite ready to commit to full-time foster care, there is always a need for respite care providers. These providers take children in for very short periods of time, typically to allow foster parents a few days off for business or pleasure. Respite care providers are also hard to find in most states and can be one of the largest supports for foster parents.

If you think you may be ready to become a foster parent, the time is now! There are many myths surrounding foster care that may prevent people from moving forward. Some of these myths involve troublesome children, abuse within foster homes, and the qualifications that are required to be a foster parent. The media has not been very helpful to dispel these myths. More recently, the movie “Instant Family” has done a better job at portraying the realities of foster care. There is also an even more recent documentary on HBO called “Foster” that speaks volume to the purpose and the inner workings of the foster care system.

It is worth it to find out more and learn how you might be an answer to the epic shortage of foster families. You may be more inclined to find out more about the foster care system from those in your community who are currently fostering or have fostered. It is also advisable to reach out to a child placing agency in your area. There are many articles about becoming a foster parent and foster parent experiences found on Adoption.com. These articles can help provide a bit more insight into the true nature of foster care and the process the becoming a foster parent entails. For more information on becoming a foster parent, please read more here.