Foster Care Facts

'Our Kids'

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 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 communities. Each state has its own unique administrative practices, legal structures and support programs.

State agencies influence every aspect of the life of a child or youth experiencing foster care. Here are eight 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 a finding and further investigation is needed, a social worker is assigned to the case.

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

Shelter Care Hearing – A shelter care hearing must occur within 72 hours of Child Protective Services establishing a case. The court reviews the dependency petition filed by the state, with parental visitation, legal representation, school or childcare placement, dependency status and placement 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. 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 and motel rooms, government offices and leased facilities.

Despite the known issues with placing youth in hotels, this practice is still quite common nationwide. Rates of hotel stays for youth under age 18 have significantly increased in Washington over the last few years.

Males experiencing foster care disproportionally face higher rates of hotel stays and congregate care.

Group homes and institutions, known as congregate care, account for 10 percent of all placements nationwide. They’re often a critical source for emergency placements due to limited placement options but shouldn’t be depended on for long-term housing.

Studies show congregate care causes harm to youth (both physical and mental), reduces timely placements and significantly increases chances of incarceration.


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

3. Children Of Color Are Over-Represented

Across the country, youth of color are far more likely to enter the foster care system than their white peers due to racial inequities across generations, with support networks and relationships fractured by systemic problems and bias.

Children of color are more likely to be removed from their homes and stay in foster care longer. They are also less likely to return home. Contributing to this disproportionality are factors related to poverty, geography and individual and systemic bias.


4. LGBTQ Youth And Legal Protections

Although there are few legal mandates 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 more states are establishing legal protections for discrimination against LGBTQ youth in foster care, many states have yet to do so or have significant loopholes in their protections.

Without these protections, LGBTQ youth have considerable disparities in their experience with the child welfare system, including a higher likelihood of living in congregate care and increased placement changes.

They also often lack affirming foster placements and caseworkers, as LGBTQ adults often face discrimination in the child welfare system as well.


5. The Need for Mental Health Supports

Mental health is one of the largest unmet needs for children and youth in foster care. There is extreme emotional (and sometimes physical) trauma in both being removed from home and the uncertainty that follows.

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


6. 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 mid-year, 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 are not allowed to participate in extracurricular activities.

Additionally, they often have special education and behavioral needs that must be assessed and supported to be successful in school.


7. Outcomes After Foster Care

Across the country, roughly 25,000 young adults exit foster care each year. Nearly all of them lack the support network that exists for their peers coming from more stable living situations.

Two of the most notable and concerning outcomes are the increased chances of foster care alumni experiencing homelessness and incarceration.

This is also known as the foster care-to-prison pipeline and foster care-to-homelessness pipeline.

Data has also long shown that trauma from experiencing the child welfare system, increases the risk of poverty and food insecurity, early pregnancy, substance abuse and untreated mental health challenges.

These consequences don’t just affect those who’ve experienced foster care through no fault of their own; they also impact available state and federal social services. As more money is spent towards rehabilitating and/or supporting alumni of foster care, fewer investments are available for proactive supports to prevent these statistical outcomes.


8. Change Is Happening

Across the country, both state and federal foster care systems are improving thanks to dedicated organizations working to adjust foster care policies and investments.

Many programs are innovating their practices, utilizing decades of data and implementing a focus on trauma-informed approaches. These new and updated programs are proving children and youth who have experienced foster care can thrive, with adequate resources and investments.

These programs include Treehouse’s Graduation Success. This program provides support to youth as they finish their high school diploma.

As overwhelming research has shown, youth need support beyond the age of 18 to achieve stability and accomplish their goals. Launch Success, another Treehouse program, partners with young adults as they work toward a professional credential, living wage and stable housing.