9 Things You Should Know About Foster Care

By Jesse Colman, Treehouse Public Relations Specialist

When a child or youth is placed into foster care, their safety and well-being become the shared responsibility of their community. Ensuring they have a childhood and a future matters to all of us.  At any given time, there are close to half a million children and youth in foster care across the country. While there is federal funding, individual states are responsible for the welfare of kids in their community. Each state has their own unique administrative practices, legal structures and support programs.

For a child or youth experiencing foster care, state agencies influence every aspect of their lives. Here are nine things to know about foster care so that you can join the conversation and identify what is yours to do.

1. The Journey Through Foster Care

Abuse or Neglect Reported – The journey to foster care often begins with an inquiry into allegations. When there is a finding and further investigation is needed, a social worker is assigned to the case.


Investigation and Intervention – Investigations are an assessment of child safety, risk of future maltreatment and child well-being. Investigators are required to make a finding indicating whether the child or youth was abused or neglected.

Shelter Care Hearing – This must occur within 72 hours of Child Protective Services establishing a case. The court reviews the dependency petition filed by the state. Parental visitation, legal representation, school and/or childcare placement, dependency status and placement until next hearing are all addressed during this hearing.

Dependency Reviews – A dependency fact-finding hearing must be held within 75 days to determine if a child or youth should be made a dependent of the state. After the fact-finding hearing, a dependency review hearing is held every six months to assess the progress made and determine:
Services offered or needed.
Educational, physical and emotional needs of youth.
Petition of the termination of parental rights (if needed).

Permanency Planning Hearing – Once a child or youth has been in care for 9 to 12 months, a court hearing determines what the permanency plan will be:
Return home.
Termination of parental rights and adoption.
Third-party custody.

2. Caseload Sizes Are Large

Child welfare caseworkers are the first responders for our most vulnerable children. They do the very challenging and complicated work of keeping children safe, ensuring their well-being and reuniting families.


Caseload sizes are large, and social worker turnover rates are high, thus increasing the number of social workers assigned over the lifetime of one case. In cases where fewer case transitions occur, children achieve permanency faster and spend less time in foster care.

3.  Shortage of Licensed Foster Homes and Group Homes

In regions across the country, including Washington state, child welfare systems struggle to recruit and retain foster parents. With a severe shortage of licensed foster homes and group homes, state agencies are increasing the practice of housing children and youth in hotel rooms and offices.

It Takes All of Us

Calling all potential foster parents. A loving, safe and stable home can make all the difference in a young person’s life. Most importantly, you won’t take this journey alone. Foster parents receive a stipend from the state and have access to a vast foster care community, including resources such as Treehouse.

Learn More About Becoming a Foster Parent Here > >

4. Children Of Color Are Over-Represented

Across the country, children of color are far more likely to enter the foster care system than their white peers.

There are a variety of factors contributing to this disproportionality. Children of color are more likely to be removed from their home, stay in foster care longer and less likely to return home.

5. LGBTQ Youth and Legal Protections

Although there is little to no legal mandate to track sexual orientation or gender identity, research suggests that LGBTQ youth are likely over-represented in the foster care system. This means that the percentage of LGBTQ youth in foster care is higher than the percentage of LGBTQ youth in the general population.

While Washington state has legal protections from discrimination for LGBTQ youth in foster care, most states do not. Without these protections, LGBTQ youth have huge disparities in their experience with the child welfare system, including a higher likelihood of living in a group home setting and higher number of placement changes

They also often lack affirming foster placements. LGBTQ adults are one potential group that could provide a loving and stable home, yet they too can face discrimination.

 6. The Need for Mental Health Supports

Mental health is one of the largest unmet needs for children and youth in foster care. These obvious traumas, both emotional and physical, are occurring at an age when the brain and body are still developing. There is extreme emotional trauma in both being removed from home and the uncertainty that follows.

Adverse childhood experiences can lead to significant mental and physical health issues.

7. Academic Outcomes

A student in foster care loses approximately six months of academic progress per school change. They are twice as likely to repeat a grade and to change schools midyear relative to peers not in foster care. Students who change schools frequently lose course credits, repeat courses they have already taken, are placed in inappropriate classes or grade levels, and often not allowed to participate in extracurricular activities.

High school graduation rates for youth who have experienced foster care are below 50% in Washington state and nationwide, and less than 3 percent will earn a bachelor’s degree.

8. What Happens After Foster Care

Across the country, close to 26,000 young adults exit foster care each year. Nearly all of them lack the network of support that exists for their peers coming from more stable living situations. We know they are at much greater risk of experiencing poverty, food insecurity, early pregnancy, homelessness and incarceration.

9. There is Hope

Across the country, individuals and organizations are working to improve foster care policies and practices. New and innovative programs are changing the narrative and proving children and youth who have experienced foster care can thrive.

Treehouse’s Graduation Success is dramatically increasing high school graduation rates. The program’s extended graduation rate is 82%.

We support young adults who have experienced foster care through high school and beyond as they make the difficult transition into adulthood. Called Launch Success, the program partners with young adults to pave pathways to a career credential, living wage job and stable housing.


There is hope and together we can partner with youth, families and community to make sure our most vulnerable kids have a childhood and a future.

Take Action Today > >

*For sources, click here.

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About the Author

Jesse Colman is the Public Relations Specialist for Treehouse. He is passionate about building relationships, storytelling and community development.

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