What Foster Parents Need

What Foster Parents Need

Woman sitting on chair talking to teenage boy sitting on chair
Written by Arnold Eby, Executive Director, NFPA
Published on: May 02, 2024
Category Foster Care

It started out so innocently, a brief survey asking foster parents about their incomes, an effort to determine if a refundable tax credit for short-term care was worth the legislative push. Wow! What we found was eye-opening to say the least. Three thousand parents representing all 50 states responded. At the end of the survey we asked an open-ended question. “Please tell us what you need.” Over 1,600 provided in-depth feedback – thoughtful, poignant, and raw. Although not set up to be a research sample, the shear volume and candor caught our attention.

The responses fall into three general categories:

  • Financial Support – 35%
  • General Support – 28%
  • Workforce Concerns – 21%

The foster care safety net is a vital community resource for hundreds of thousands of children across the United States who cannot remain safely at home. Foster families are the backbone of this safety net and therefore it is important for child welfare agencies to recruit and retain enough foster families who can meet the unique needs of children in foster care and nurture their healing and well-being.

However, there is a critical shortage of foster homes. More than half of all states saw a significant decline in licensed foster homes last year. Some states saw cuts as high as 61%. There are many reasons behind the decline. One of the main factors: new foster parents don’t stay in the system.

Foster Care Woman and Boy Child Talking inside a retro home

The five core supports needed for family-based foster care that National Foster Parent Association (NFPA) have been advocating for include:

  • Daycare/Early Childhood Interventions
  • Accessible, 24/7 Mental Health Care
  • Adequate Rate Remuneration and Certified Caregivers for Relief and Respite
  • Peer-to-Peer Support for Parents and Children
  • Targeted and Accessible Training for Parents and Families 24/7

The financial support focus from the survey touches two of the three core supports – (1) daycare/early childhood interventions, and (2) rate reform for certified caregivers and adequate, flexible respite.

General support responses also fell into two categories of core supports. (1) The need for transportation support, i.e., mileage reimbursement and third-party appointment transportation services, (2) while echoing again the need to rethink and reframe respite services.

The third core support issue that also emerged in the general support category is mental health services and support. Our recommendations for this include creating a national effort to support the mental health and well-being of foster youth and former foster youth; providing mental health assistance to caregivers and parents; and, putting in place a requirement for states to develop a comprehensive mental health system for foster care.

I believe that the fourth and fifth support are also closely aligned and touch the areas of 24/7 targeted training for foster parents and parents, and comprehensive peer-to-peer supports.

The final category of responses serves as a reminder of just how integral the workforce is to the daily success of foster parents. Consistency and communication are vital to the well being of the relationship and every effort to stabilize the workforce pays dividends in successful long-term outcomes for foster families and the children they serve.

Organizations like the National Foster Parent Association (NFPA) bring deep expertise on the issue of foster and adoptive parent recruitment and retention. We know first-hand about the challenges children in foster care face before, during and after their foster care journeys. We also know what a positive difference it makes in their lives when they are cared for by stable, supportive foster families, which includes relative and non-relative foster families.

We want to share what’s working, and not working to help youth in foster care heal and thrive. Supporting foster parents and caregivers is critical to youth having permanency, whether it’s reunifying with their families or having lifelong family through guardianship or adoption.

Many years of experience tell us that the important work of recruiting foster families requires agencies to utilize effective, data-driven approaches. The Recruiting Families Using Data Act (HR 3058/S 1313) offers much-needed improvements to federal policy by providing clear guidance to help child welfare agencies plan and implement best practices in foster parent recruitment and retention which includes the needed core supports. Through our advocacy efforts this bill passed the House of Representatives, unanimously, November 30, 2023, 40-0. It is now under consideration in the Senate.

The Act would spur practice improvements that align with the changes foster families and kinship caregivers have been calling for and that are essential to achieving the best outcomes for children and families.

We can help transform child welfare through support for the workforce. A quality child welfare workforce is essential to ensuring good outcomes for children in the child welfare system. This includes grant funding for recruitment; increasing child welfare funding; prioritizing funding for prevention, and compiling and disseminating best practices.

Read CWLA Policy Brief

Below are strategic efforts we are making in advocating for much needed core supports for foster families and the children that need sanctuary:


Recruiting Families Using Data ActH.R. 3058/S. 1313

  • Update the existing requirement in Title IV regarding diligent recruitment of foster
    and adoptive families
  • Expands best practices such as kin-first, sibling connections, and family
    placements for teens


Foster Youth Mental Health ActS. 2836

Treatment Family Care Services ActS. 3761

  • Provide standardized definition of treatment family care
  • Require Medicaid to provide guidance to states on treatment opportunities


Title IV-B

  • Increase the $20M for workforce development in Title IV-B for better training for caseworkers
  • Create new competitive or formula grants in Title IV-B of the Social Security Act with additional funding for states to address both recruitment and retention
  • Create task forces or working groups to compile and disseminate best practices on issues such as creating psychological safety and wellness for staff, racial disparities in child welfare, promoting a diverse workforce, and reducing barriers to social work licensure
Here are three things you can do to find out more and to make a difference:
  • Join NFPA for networking, education and advocacy about foster, adoptive and kinship parenting.
  • Join our state affiliate associations (CoSA) for state and local policy information, updates and advocacy campaigns – and, to connect with other foster parents in your area.
  • Check out the National Foster Parent Association Training Institute with 24/7 free videos from experts in the field of child welfare and those with lived experience.