Understanding Foster Parenting: Using Administrative Data to Explore Retention. Foster Parent Characteristics


The characteristics associated with exiting foster parents are not as well described as foster parenting experiences. Findings are less consistent for both demographic and socioeconomic characteristics than for the foster parent experiences described in the preceding section.

Older foster parents appear more likely to continue providing foster care. Older foster mothers were significantly more likely to continue foster parenting rather than quit and were more likely to actually provide care (Rhodes, Orme, and Buehler, 2001; Campbell and Downs, 1987). Denby and colleagues (1999) found that age of foster fathers, but not foster mothers, was associated with increased intention to continue foster parenting.

Foster parent race was not associated with satisfaction with foster parenting (Denby, Rindfleisch, and Bean, 1999; Fees et al., 1998). However, Rindfleisch and colleagues (1998), using the same data as Denby, did find that white foster mothers had a significantly higher probability of having quit foster parenting.

Studies that examine socioeconomic characteristics generally find that higher levels of employment and income are associated with increased likelihood of quitting foster parenting. Although Rhodes and colleagues (2001) did not find significant income variation among current foster parents, former foster parents, and those intending to quit, continuing foster parents are more likely than the other two groups to earn less than $25,000 annually (DHHS, 1989). Foster parents for whom foster parenting is a source of income, and those who are unemployed, are more likely to continue (Rindfleisch, Bean, and Denby, 1998; Campbell and Downs, 1987).

These analyses of why foster parents leave are primarily based on self-reported data from foster parents. Response rates for former foster parents were substantially lower than for current foster parents, suggesting possible nonresponse bias. Among studies of why foster parents continue or leave, information on how long foster parents serve is notably absent. Only two of the studies report the time in foster parenting for participating foster parents: a mean of 8.6 years in Martin et al. (1992) and 5 years in Rindfleisch, Bean, and Denby (1998). None compare length of service among different groups of foster parents.

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