What is Foster Care Awareness Month?
Foster Care Awareness Month is in May; it’s a time to raise awareness of the needs of children and youth in the U.S. foster care system who require temporary – and sometimes permanent – homes with safe, nurturing families. We also take time to recognize those in our community who are committed to serve vulnerable kids including foster families; kinship caregivers; child-welfare professionals; and Foster Friendly businesses, faith communities and nonprofit organizations.
According to The Children’s Bureau National Foster Care Month campaign “recognizes the important role that members from all parts of the child welfare system play in supporting children, youth and families. The 2023 theme, “Strengthening Minds. Uplifting Families.” highlights the need to take a holistic and culturally responsive approach to supporting the mental health needs of those involved with child welfare.”
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about foster care and Foster Care Awareness Month to help you understand how you can help create a better place for children displaced from their families.
What is the Goal of Foster Care Awareness Month?
There are two primary goals of Foster Care Awareness Month:
- To raise awareness of the challenges and needs of kids in foster care, and
- To inspire more people to consider fostering or find a way they can show care and support for vulnerable children.
Foster Care By the Numbers
How many children are in foster care today in the U.S.?
407,493 children were in foster care in 2020.1 The top five states with the most kids in foster care are2 :
- California – 46,214
- Florida – 21,808
- Texas – 21,691
- Illinois – 20,815
- Ohio – 15,032
What percent of children spend time in foster care?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, each year, nearly 1 percent of U.S. children spend time in foster care. Six percent of US children are placed in foster care at least once between birth and age 18.
The average time a child in care will spend in the system is 21 months, according to the Ann E. Casey Foundation.
How many licensed foster homes are available?
There are 210,845 licensed foster homes in the U.S.2
About 85,000 kids are placed with relatives, often referred to as kinship care.2
And another 20,722 are placed in one of the 5,168 congregate-care settings available to serve foster youth, typically a group home or institutional setting.2
What happens to kids who age out of foster care?
Each year, 23,000 kids age out of the foster care system without the support and stability of family. This puts them at far greater risk for many of the top 10 social wounds, including homelessness, unemployment, sex trafficking and substance abuse, among others.
Three-quarters of young women who age out will experience an unplanned pregnancy before age 21, increasing their risk of perpetuating a generational cycle of foster care.
Learn more about the crisis faced by child welfare with such a large gap between kids in need and eligible foster families in this recent post, “Two Child Welfare Workers Speak Up About the Urgent Need for Helping Kids in Foster Care.”
What are the most common reasons children are placed in foster care?
The most important thing to know about kids in foster care is that removal from the home happens as a result of the parents’ challenges, not something the kids did. The goal of intervention is to define a path to restoration and reunification of the family.
Children may be removed by children and family services as a result of abuse, neglect, abandonment or other threats to the child’s safety and well-being. According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 38.9 percent of the time, parental abuse of drugs or alcohol is a factor in the child’s removal.
Other leading causes of children being placed in foster care include severe illness of the parent that impedes the ability to care for children, as well as death or incarceration of the parent(s).
Stories Of Hope: Christina Bauer
“If you’ve never been in foster care or involved in foster care – you should know at the outset that foster care is traumatic for kids. One day your life seems ‘normal’‘ and the next, you’re living with people you don’t know, and you’re unsure what will happen next. Don’t let the cute letter board announcements of ‘We’re fostering’ blind you to the fact that when children enter foster care, it’s because something terrible has happened.”
Christina Bauer and her brother were in and out of kinship care from a young age, and eventually transitioned to state-funded foster care. Her foster mom’s responses to her trauma-induced behaviors included physical, emotional and mental abuse.
“My brother and I were in foster care for four years. I was adopted at age 4. My family knew—because of all the trauma we had experienced—that they would need to commit to adopting us once they met us. Six months later, they did adopt my brother and me.
“Adoption changed the trajectory of my life. Perhaps the most important way was that it finally meant permanency for my brother and me. Before, the risk of separation always hung over our heads, as 75 percent of siblings who enter foster care will not be placed together in a home. In adoption, the commitment was made to both of us – together.
“Supported by my family, I was able to focus on other things. I graduated high school and college. Knowing that fewer than 3 percent of former foster youth graduate college inspired me to beat the odds.
“I met my husband when we were just six years old, shortly after I was adopted. We did not grow up as childhood sweethearts, more like enemies, but he cares for me deeply and works hard to be trauma-informed in our marriage.
“Today, we live in a beautiful home, have a service dog, Maverick, and are parenting our firstborn son. I worked for several years as a teacher, but now lead social media for America’s Kids Belong, helping other kids in foster care find permanency and belonging. This work is very important and personal for me as I parent my son, who won’t experience foster care like my birth mother and I did.”
How You Can Help
Opening your heart and home to become a certified, long-term placement option for kids in foster care is the first way people think of to help. But you might be surprised to discover that you can say yes to fostering in myriad ways, some of which don’t even require you to be licensed.
The options vary by state, so be sure to check your state’s resources and requirements for specific information. Here are some fostering options you might not be aware of:
- 72-Hour Custodial Care—Some states have a need for 72-hour temporary care when children have been removed from their homes, but a determination hearing of whether or not the kids will be placed in foster care or returned to their homes or placed with extended family members (kinship care).
- Respite Care—Foster families sometimes need a weekend or a few days of respite care, either just for a bit of self-care or out-of-state travel when the child in foster care is not permitted to travel outside the state (and a variety of other situations). In many cases, the requirements to be a respite provider are less than those to be a foster parent.
- Mentoring—A variety of programs are available to support and mentor aged-out foster youth
- Supporting Foster Families—Even if you can’t foster, the families in your community doing this work need your support. Check out the options to start or join in providing support services under additional resources.
It doesn’t take an existing program for you to make a difference. As you commit to learning about foster care and engaging with families and kids involved in the system, you can find ways to provide support and encouragement for kids and families in your community.
Keep reading to learn more about foster care and what you can do to improve the experiences and outcomes for kids in foster care.
- Explore Fostering
- FAQs About Foster Care and Adoption
- Foster Care Certification Resources By State
- The Truth About Men and Foster Care: Debunking the Myths/
- Could We Really Consider Foster Care?
- Resources To Lighten Your Load
Want to Support Foster Parents?
- How To Encourage A Foster Parent
- So, Your Child Wants to Be Friends With a Kid in Foster Care…
- 5 Ways The Church Can Impact Foster Care Right Now
- Become A Foster Friendly Business
- Wrap around a local foster family with your neighborhood, church, business or community group