Is there a shortage of foster homes in the United States? If so, is the shortage widespread or localized? To find answers to these questions, I looked at federal data, research by the Casey Foundation, information from state program directors and evidence from hundreds of recent news reports documenting critical local shortages throughout our nation.
The overwhelming message is that we have fewer foster homes than in the past and recruitment is becoming quite difficult. The foster home shortage is obfuscated by a lack of centralized data.
We remove children from abusive and neglectful homes to protect them. Then what? Here are some unpleasant consequences of our foster home shortfall that were repeated many times in the news articles I reviewed.
Temporary placements following removal from the birth home tended to drag on and on, with some becoming semi-permanent. There were reports of children left in institutions and hospitals. Other reports of children placed in hotels. Some children had to be left sleeping in welfare and government offices for lack of anything better.
In May of 2015, nearly one in seven foster youths lived in a group home or other congregate care setting. Approximately 23,000 of these children have no medical disability or behavioral problem that might warrant such a restrictive and expensive placement. If foster homes were available, these children might be more appropriately placed with families.
Although general shortages tended to vary by state and by county, foster homes for special populations were in universal demand. Homes were needed for teens, sibling groups, minority groups of blacks and Hispanics, and for health-challenged children. Homes within the child’s social and cultural milieu were rare. Too often, the child had to be placed so far from the birth parent that reunification became geographically difficult.
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