The foster care system affects more people than you may think. Kids, youth, parents, foster parents, and kinship caregivers are all impacted. Read more below.

FOSTER CARE SYSTEM

Foster care exists to provide safe, temporary homes for kids who cannot live with their families.

When the state decides a child cannot live with their parents, social workers do their best to find a relative for kids to stay with while they are in foster care. These are “kinship caregivers.” When that is not possible, children are placed with supportive foster parents who are not related to the child or stay in a group home for as long as they need. Foster parents and kinship caregivers are licensed by the state. The goal of foster care is reunification – that means children return to their home after their family has received the services, resources, and support they need to get back on track. The majority of families in Washington reunite after receiving services from the state.

It is important for kids to stay connected to their parents while they are in foster care. When a child is removed from their home, no matter what the situation at home may be, it is deeply traumatic. The state immediately works with parents, caregivers, and attorneys to develop a family visit plan to maintain and strengthen the parent-child relationship.

Like all families, kids and families experiencing the foster care system need support from their community to thrive. We all have a role.

Learn more about foster care.

63
of children in foster care are reunited with their parents.
5
The maximum number of days before a visit should take place between a child and their parent(s) after the state removes a child from their home.

WATCH: SESAME STREET: A HEART CAN GROW

Karli, a young Sesame Street Muppet in foster care, explains that the more people she has in her life who love her, the more her heart grows. Even though she is sad that her mom is not able to be with her right now, she finds some comfort from her foster parents and friends who support her during a difficult time.

YOUTH IN FOSTER CARE

Like all kids, children and youth in foster care need care and understanding.

Removing a child from their parent is a subjective decision made by a judge. There are many reasons kids aren’t able to stay in their homes with their parent — it could be that a parent has passed away, is experiencing a health crisis, has been incarcerated, is struggling with addiction, or has been physically/emotionally abusive or abused. All of these complex circumstances can be intensified by poverty, which many families navigating foster care experience. Regardless of the reason, the experience of having to leave home is deeply traumatic for youth at any age.

Children of color and LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately represented in the foster care system. Foster parents can support youth by being accepting and affirming of who they are, keeping kids connected to their community, and educating themselves about the culture and identity of the child in their care.

Less than half of youth in foster care graduate high school. However, when they receive educational support from organizations like Treehouse, most youth complete their high school education or receive their G.E.D., improving their lifelong outcomes. With support from family and community around them, kids can grow and succeed.

43
of kids entering foster care in WA are under five years old.
83
of youth in foster care receiving educational support from organizations such as Treehouse will graduate high school within 5 years.
2
There are 1.5-2 times as many LGBTQ youth experiencing foster care as LGBTQ youth who are not.

WATCH: WE ALL NEED SUPPORT TO SUCCEED

When a young person enters the foster care system, they are often separated from their family, school, and their network of support. They have to uproot and start over, hindering their education, wellness and social activity and outcomes. Hear from Tyler, Angel, and Fernando about what they need to achieve their dreams in this video from The Mockingbird Society.

PARENTS

Parents whose children are in foster care have struggles just like any other family.

Many things can disrupt a family’s ability to be together. A parent may have lost a job or had an unexpected health issue arise that prevented them from being able to take care of their children. They might be struggling with their own trauma or addiction, and they may have experienced foster care as a child themselves.

Removing a child from their parent is a subjective decision made by a judge. People of color and Indigenous people are disproportionately represented in the foster care system due to racial bias and systemic racism. In Washington State, African American kids are 2.2 times more likely and Native American kids are 2.9 times more likely to enter foster care than their white peers.

Most parents work hard towards reunification. Strong support systems, including partnership between parents and foster parents, are critical to families reuniting and finding stability. If reunification isn’t possible, the majority of parents would like to still hold a significant presence in the life of their child.

Everyone needs support. When the community steps up for parents, parents can find stability for themselves and their children.

18
months is the median length of time before parents are reunified with their kids.
2-3
African American and Native American kids in Washington are 2-3 times more likely to enter foster care than their white peers.

READ: I’M HELPING MY SON FEEL SECURE DESPITE DIFFICULT CONDITIONS

November 16, 2017 by Sara Werner

Sara Werner knew that reunification with her four-year-old son would be hard. She was worried that he’d miss some of the luxuries he’d had while living with his foster family. When they reunited, Sara says, “he was just happy to be with his mom.” Read Sara’s article in Rise Magazine about how she puts in the work every day to make sure her son feels loved and secure.

Read more in Rise Magazine.

FOSTER PARENTS

A foster family is not so different from any other family.

Foster parents open their homes and their hearts to kids who are in foster care. They work hard to build meaningful relationships with kids in their care, as well as their families. Children in foster care and foster parents may only spend one day together, but connections can be made that last a lifetime. As is the case with any kind of parenting, the experiences of foster parents vary widely. Foster parents don’t need to be superhuman. They do need to be flexible and willing to put the well-being of kids at the center.

Reunifying children with their families, when it is safe to do so, is the ideal outcome of foster care. However, permanency for children in care can take many different forms, including reunification, adoption, and guardianship. Many foster parents work actively to support reunification and to help nurture ongoing connections with parents and family members, creating blended families that surround children with love and support.

Individuals of color are stepping up to be foster parents at proportionally the same rate as white individuals. However, since children of color are over-represented in the foster care system, there are not enough foster parents of color to care for them. Foster parents caring for a child of a different race and ethnicity from their own can support them by keeping them connected to their community, and educating themselves about the culture of the child in their care.

Foster families often provide homes to youth with only a few hours of notice, which means there is little time to ensure they have everything they need to care for the child based on their age and development. By supporting foster families, our community can help make transitions easier for kids.

9000
kids are in foster care in Washington State, and there are only 5,134 licensed foster families.
22
of children exiting foster care are adopted.
50
The likelihood that 3 siblings will be placed together in a foster home.

WATCH: CULTURE MATTERS: CARING FOR OUR COMMUNITY’S BLACK KIDS

On average, Black kids and other kids of color stay in foster care for longer than white kids. A foster parent and an alum of foster care speak to how much it can mean to Black kids to be placed with Black foster parents. “I often imagine how my life would be different if I was raised in a Black home,” says one alum of care. Learn more in this video from Amara.

KINSHIP CAREGIVERS

Family members and friends often step up to care for children entering foster care.

Relatives and close family friends can all be kinship caregivers who become guardians to children when they can’t live with their parents. State and federal laws require social workers to look for relatives first to care for children who must leave their homes. Kinship care is the preferred placement for a child who has been removed from their parents because it maintains family connections and cultural identity, and may reduce trauma for children. Children who are placed with family members are more likely to reunify with their parents and have better lifelong outcomes.

Relatives are significantly more likely to care for all siblings, reducing separation and increasing feelings of safety and connection for youth in care. However, the majority of kinship caregivers have limited income and receive even less financial support from the state than foster parents.

By making it easier for relatives to serve as caregivers, we can support safety and stability for kids.

47000
kinship family members in Washington state are caring for one or more relative children.
44
of youth in foster care are cared for by relatives.
80
of kinship caregivers receive less financial support from the state than foster parents.

WATCH: BECOMING A KINSHIP PARENT

Tamara shares her story of becoming a kinship caregiver for, and ultimately adopting, her great niece, Abrea. Previously, Abrea had been in foster care for a number of years, but having kinship caregivers meant she could be with family. “This journey has been rewarding even though there were mountains and valleys,” Tamara says. “We don’t count our journey lightly.” Watch Tamara’s story in this video from the Child Welfare Capacity Building Collaborative.

Find out what you can do to support the full constellation of people impacted by the foster care system.