Understanding Foster Parenting: Using Administrative Data to Explore Retention. Introduction


Foster homes are a critical resource within the child welfare system. In recent years, adoptions from foster care have increased dramatically, as has the use of relative caregivers for children in out-of-home care. Nevertheless, more than 260,000 children were in non-relative foster care at the end of FY 2001 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS], 2003).

In addition to maintaining sufficient licensed foster homes to house the children in care, child welfare agencies are challenged to provide foster care in placements that are stable, can accommodate sibling groups, and are located in proximity to family members (DHHS, 2000a). The increase in adoptions from foster care  from 37,000 in 1998 to 53,000 in 2002  creates an additional potential strain on foster home resources. Because the majority of adoptions are by foster parents, these homes may become less available as foster homes, following one or more adoptions. During the years for which national data are available, the percent of children who are adopted by their foster parents has ranged from 65 percent in 1998 to 59 percent in 2001 (DHHS, 2000; DHHS, 2001; DHHS, 2002; DHHS, 2003).

Foster parents thus play a central role within the child welfare system, both as resources in providing care that meets increasingly demanding criteria and as the primary resource for adoptive children. However, research on foster parent retention is surprisingly slender. Research related to foster parent retention typically describes the characteristics and experiences of foster parents based on their status (current or former foster parents) or their stated intention (to continue or cease foster parenting). Little is known, however, about the length of time actually served by foster parents and the characteristics that distinguish those with varying lengths of service.

The remainder of this section describes the objectives of this project and provides background information from previous research on foster parenting. Section 2 describes the administrative data and the methods for descriptive and multivariate analyses. Section 3 describes foster home characteristics and utilization, and Section 4 presents analyses of length of service for foster parents. Finally, Section 5 summarizes these findings and presents conclusions.

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