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KVC Health Systems

Foster Care in America: Realities, Challenges and Solutions

Foster Care in America

Whether foster care seems like something you’re called to or your are simply curious to learn more, you’re in the right place. On any given day, nearly 407,000 children are in foster care in America. That includes more than 40,000 children in areas served by KVC Health Systems.

The primary goal of foster care is reunification. At KVC, we work toward this goal by helping families with the tools and support they need to function in a healthy way. Foster care provides families space to address challenges until safe reunification is possible. We help foster parents and birth parents work together to reunite families when the work has been done to stabilize circumstances and strengthen individuals.

The Statistics: Children in Foster Care

children in foster care in AmericaChildren in foster care typically range from infants to 18 year olds. Several states extend foster care to age 21. The average age of a child in foster care is nine years old, and there are slightly more boys than girls. The median amount of time a child spends in foster care is just over a year. Clearly, the need for foster parents is great.

Fortunately, nearly half of these children will be safely reunified with their parents or primary caregivers. Nearly one-quarter will be adopted, many by their foster parents. On the other hand, more than 15,000 18-year-olds age out of the foster care system each year without reuniting with their families or being adopted. Some states offer independent living services to help these youth transition to adulthood, but policies like these are not universal.

Areas of Extreme Need in Foster Care in America

Across the nation, we’re seeing an increasing need for foster parents who are able to care for teenagers. The older a foster child gets, the less likely that child is to receive care from a foster family: 95% of children under 12 live with a family, compared to only 58% of those who are 13 and older. When teenagers age out of the foster care system without a permanent support system, they’re at a greater risk for homelessness, young parenthood, incarceration and more. And even for someone aging out of the foster care system who continues their education, finds safe housing, and lands a good job, connection still matters. On an emotional level, simply turning 18 doesn’t signal full independence. We all need connection, regardless of our age.

Caring for teenagers may seem intimidating at first. But many foster parents have come to love the experience of fostering teens. Caring for a teen is certainly different from caring for a baby or young child — but there are many joys to be found while caring for kids of all ages! Toddlers require more attention with basic needs, but teens can be empowered by learning life skills from foster parents. 

We also see a great need for foster homes that will accept sibling groups. Statistics show that more than 50% of all children in foster care have one or more siblings. For children to thrive, it’s helpful to keep siblings together. Unfortunately, data shows that these siblings are separated in more than 70% of placements. At KVC Health Systems, we do everything we can to keep siblings together in order to preserve that bond and feeling of safety. Having numerous foster homes that are willing to take siblings in makes this mission possible.

LGBTQ foster parentsThere’s a particular need for diversity in foster parents as well. Minority children are overrepresented in foster care in America. While Black children make up 14% of the United States child population, they account for 20% of those entering the child welfare system. Similarly, American Indian and Native Alaskan children are 1% of the US child population, but account for over 2%  of those entering care. LGBTQIA+ children are also over-represented. Placing these children in homes that reflect their background and culture can be helpful in achieving positive outcomes.

The need for more foster homes continues. Each year foster homes close due to adoption or personal circumstance. As these homes close, the need is great for new homes to replenish the availability of safe, supportive environments for children experiencing foster care. 

How You Can Make a Difference

While many of the issues the foster system faces are legislative and financial, there are many things you can do to help on a grassroots level. Families experiencing crises need our help. You can help strengthen families, support children who have experienced trauma and make a positive impact in your community in the following ways:

  • Learn More About Foster Care: You don’t have to commit to becoming a foster parent from the get-go. Simply learning more about foster care and what the experience might look like for you and your family is an important first step. Learn more about foster care in your state and educate yourself on this essential need.
  • Overcome Misconceptions:  At KVC, we welcome anyone with an open heart. There are many misconceptions about what a foster parent can or should look like. Many families have the potential to be a great foster family! Whether you are married or single, LGBTQIA+ or of any religious affiliation: all are eligible to be a foster parent.
  • Raise Funds: There are many different ways you can support foster care and the children we serve through generous donations and participation in community events. As the saying goes, it takes a village — and you’re invited to become part of it. By joining our monthly giving program, you’ll be an Everyday Hero supporting foster and adoptive families. With a gift of $1,000 or more, you can become a part of the President’s Innovation Circle. KVC is committed to being an organization you can trust with 90% of donations going toward program expenses. 

The KVC Gala is a wonderful opportunity to support the community in the Kansas City area while enjoying a night of entertainment. Check our website for upcoming events to show your support of KVC and the families we serve. 

  • Educate and Advocate: By staying informed about what’s happening with the child welfare system and foster care in America, and advocating for prevention efforts that strengthen families in your local community, you can make an impact in the lives of children near you.

social mediaConsider following your state’s government agency responsible for providing child welfare services. Follow KVC’s blog and social media channels. We post helpful articles, success stories and free resources about child welfare, parenting and mental wellness. When you share the challenges families are facing with others and rally them to get involved, you can make a positive impact in your community.

  • Explore a Career in Social Work: Social work is a diverse helping profession that serves people in need. If you’ve considered a career in social work, now is a great time to learn more. Read about Five Reasons to Pursue a Career in Social Work or browse our open positions on our careers page

The next step to support children and families in foster care is to simply learn more. KVC is here to support you and answer your questions no matter where you are in your foster care journey. 

Become a foster parent with KVC Health Systems.