The National Council For Adoption’s new press release covers the FY 2018 statistics on foster care and adoption which show that there have been some favorable changes in foster care and adoption.

One of the most notable statistics shared is that “the number of children in foster care fell to 437,283—a slight (-0.9%) decrease from FY 2017.” There hasn’t been a decrease in the number of children in foster care since FY 2012. This means that many people are taking action to help the foster care situation nationwide.

What Is Foster Care?

Foster care is a temporary living situation a child is put in by state services when they need to be removed from their family due to neglect or abuse. It can be difficult to find a temporary living situation for the child because people need to be qualified to take care of these children.

At times, kids will be placed with family members, such as aunts, uncles, or grandparents; they may also be placed with people they know in their community, such as a teacher or a family friend. When no one who knows the child can care for them, then there are people unrelated to the child who may care for the child.

However, often, social services will need to evaluate the homes available (relative or non-relative) prior to placing a child with anyone. Relatives may not need to go through as deep of paperwork and evaluations as non-relative foster families do, but it depends upon the county and how they handle foster care.

While the evaluations and paperwork can better prepare a foster family to take in a child, there are not enough foster families out there.

When Are Children in Foster Care Available for Adoption?

The ultimate goal of foster care is the reunification of the child with their biological family. Unfortunately, there are parents who cannot get through what they may be struggling with and in those situations, it’s no longer safe to pursue reunification. In those instances, the child’s case will change to pursuing an adoption and a foster family can take the child as a placement and pursue adopting them.

As with any adoption, there is a lot of paperwork and legalities involved. However, one of the benefits of foster care adoption is that it barely costs anything to adopt. These children desperately need homes as their previous homes are no longer safe for them. In fact, according to NCFA, “the number of children waiting to be adopted has risen for the past six consecutive years and is now at a 10-year high, with more than 125,000 waiting children. For every child who was adopted in FY 2018, two children were left waiting.”

But the foster families who are out there willing to adopt and take in these children have increased the number of adoptions in FY 2018. According to NCFA, “more American families are responding to the call to adopt, as 63,123 children were adopted from foster care in FY 2018—a 6% increase in the past year and the highest number of adoptions in the history of the report.”

In fact, NCFA also noted and recognized a few states for their continued efforts in the adoption field. First, they stated that New Hampshire almost doubled their adoptions in FY 2018. They also recognized Alabama, Kansas, Minnesota, and Montana for their work toward increasing adoptions during FY 2018.

NCFA is also working on conducting a study into foster care across multiple states. They are conducting this to give states “actionable best practices to better serve children and families.”

Why Are Kids in Foster Care?

Abuse and neglect are common reasons that children are removed from their parents’ care and placed in a foster home. However, as was noted in the past section, the number of children who are waiting to be adopted in foster care is at a 10-year high. The AFCARS FY 2018 report notes that the highest reasons for removal from the home are neglect (at 62 percent) and drug abuse (parent) (at 36 percent). Why might those be the top reasons?

One possibility is the opioid epidemic which has been going on for the past few years. A public health emergency on the opioid epidemic was released by the United States Department of Health and Human Services in 2017.

Across the United States, in 2018, “10.3 m[illion] people misused prescription opioids … [and] 2 million people had an opioid use disorder,” according to HHS.

The epidemic is still ongoing. People are suffering because of drug abuse daily.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids. The misuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare.”

There are people out there, including parents, who are abusing opioids and other drugs. This puts their children in danger and if the parents cannot overcome their drug abuse then they will not be able to take care of their children. In that case, adoption and the termination of parental rights will be pursued.

NCFA notes, however, that “in four years, parental drug abuse grew 10% from 86,000 in FY 2015 to just over 94,000 in FY 2018. The number of parental drug abuse cases fell slightly in the past year, and it is NCFA’s hope that, as the opioid epidemic continues, more families battling substance abuse will seek and have access to the support they need to move beyond addiction.”

So while it has been going on for the past few years and it could be a cause in the rise of adoptions in 2018, it is possible that more families are seeking help as time goes on.

How Many Kids Age Out of Foster Care?

When kids turn 18 and they’re in foster care still, they “age out” of foster care, meaning they’re on their own. Unfortunately, there are many risks for youth who age out of care. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, 20 percent of children who reach the age of 18 and were in foster care will become homeless immediately. Additionally, only half of the kids who age out of foster care will have gainful employment by age 24. About 25 percent of kids who age out don’t graduate from high school and can’t pass their GED. Even if kids who age out do want to go on to college, “there is less than a 3% chance for children who have aged out of foster care to earn a college degree at any point in their life.” Plus, about 70 percent of the girls aging out of foster care become pregnant before they turn 21.

Aging out is a real issue as these kids have no permanency and no family to fall back on for help. They’re left on their own with not enough to manage. However, the statistics in NCFA’s press release showed that “the number of youth who aged out of care fell a significant 11% in just the past year. At 17,844, the number of emancipated youth is now the lowest since FY 1998, which was the first year that data was collected by the AFCARS report.”

This is hugely significant for kids in foster care. The fewer kids who age out without any permanency, the better. NCFA noted that the number of youth aging out has fallen because more efforts are being put into finding families for older youth in care. Also, there is a push by many states for foster care services to extend to 21 years old. In the NCFA report, they advocate for extending services in all states past 18 years old. They noted that this would “better support these young people as they transition into adulthood. Without the support of a family, these services are vital.”

How to Become a Foster Parent

There is a definite need for more foster parents. Many children across the United States need a home, so whether you’re interested in taking care of kids temporarily or permanently, there are kids you could help.

Of course, there are a few requirements you will have to meet to qualify for becoming a foster parent. Generally speaking (although you should check with your state specifically), these are some requirements that you may run across when applying to be a foster parent:

 - You need to be over 21 years old

- You can usually be married or single

- You can usually rent or own your home

- Each foster child usually needs their own space; they may be able to share a room with one of your other children, but that should be checked with a social worker

- Need to have an income that can support adding a foster child

Again, ensure you check with your county and state requirements so you know you qualify.

If you qualify, one of the next big steps will most likely be foster care training. Training prior to having a foster child in your home is hugely important. Even if it isn’t required in your state, you should truly consider undertaking some training so you’re more prepared.

Children in foster care often have trauma from their neglect or abuse. They may also have different medical needs you have to adjust to. Overall, parenting and caring for foster kids is completely different and the state may prohibit certain methods of discipline as well. Make sure to talk to your social worker and get advice on parenting and handling children from foster care.

After doing some training, you may be required to complete a home study, although it does depend upon the state. A home study usually includes background checks, interviews, a physical visit, and clearances. It is usually a lot of paperwork but the social worker wants to work with you so you can qualify to help the children. Just be upfront with them, and during the physical visit, make sure you abide by any state requirements. For example, if all outlets need child safety covers, make sure those are on.

We have many resources you can refer to when looking for help to prepare for your home study, such as “What does a home study involve?” and “Surviving Your Home Study Guide.”

If you pass your home study and all the training then you’re well on your way to fostering.

When you are receiving your very first placement, don’t be afraid to say no. Yes, there are many children who need homes. However, if you accept a placement that you feel will not work with your family, you may just end up hurting your own family and having to move the child from your home later on because they weren’t the right fit.

Choose a child you feel you can handle. Of course, you most likely won’t be entirely ready for when you first have a child come because there’s a lot to learn from experience. But don’t try to take in a child you think you won’t be able to care for well at all just because you feel you have to take them in. As you get more experience, you may be more prepared to take on more difficult placements, but don’t feel pressured to rush into highly difficult placements unless you truly feel ready.

Fostering is a wonderful and difficult journey so be prepared.

Conclusion

The NCFA press release shows that there is still a long way to go to improve things for children in foster care, but in most areas, there is positive progress.

If you feel the call to foster or adopt, please do. You can help continue the positive progress by taking in the children who need homes. Many states need a lot more foster parents to help with the thousands of children in the foster care system.

If you feel fostering or adopting is not for you at this time, please help those who are fostering and adopting. They need support from people in their community to continue their hard work.

A positive change can continue as people band together to help those children who are in the foster care system.