Understanding Foster Parenting: Using Administrative Data to Explore Retention. Distribution of Foster Care


Although mean occupancy rates provide a useful measure for comparing groups of foster parents, the provision of foster care is in fact distributed quite unevenly across the population of foster parents. Table 3-7 shows that among foster homes that had at least one placement, many provided very little foster care. Across the three states, between 13 and 21 percent of homes provided less than 90 days of foster care during their time in foster parenting. Note that this figure represents the days of care provided to all children, rather than the length of service (i.e., 90 days of care might consist of three children placed in the home for 30 days each). In addition, this simple count of days of care provided does not adjust for the length of time in foster parenting, as do occupancy rate and new placement rate. Compared to all homes, those providing less than 90 days of care were less likely to have foster-adopt licenses (in New Mexico and Oregon) and more likely to have regular foster care licenses (in New Mexico) or restricted licenses (in Oregon). Age, race and location were not different for homes providing less than 90 days of care, but these homes were more likely than others to have only one foster parent.

Table 3-7.
Distribution of Foster Parenting by State
  New Mexico
(n = 662)
(n = 2,833)
(n = 11,947)
Percent of homes providing < 90 days of care 21% 13% 19%
Percent of placement days provided by
Most active 5% of homes 26% 27% 36%
Most active 20% of homes 60% 61% 72%

At the opposite end of the spectrum, a small proportion of foster parents provided a large part of all foster care. The most active 20 percent of foster parents provided between 60 and 72 percent of all foster care days. Within this group, the most active 5 percent of homes provided more than one-quarter of all days of foster parenting.

The finding that a small group of foster parents provide the majority of care is striking. Interpretation of this pattern is difficult without additional data to suggest whether low utilization of some homes is due to geographic distribution of foster parents, or foster parents' preferences for specific types of children. These distributions are almost certainly influenced by the choices made by child welfare workers who match children with homes.For example, workers may choose to place children with experienced foster parents who they know and trust, rather than in less experienced homes. Little is known about how workers choose homes for specific placements.

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