In May, we honor the extraordinary individuals who open their hearts and homes to children in their most vulnerable moments. Foster parents play a critical role in child welfare, providing a safe haven and loving support to children across the country. Their dedication often extends beyond the immediate care, as many foster families continue to support both the children and their families of origin even after reunification. A nurturing foster home offers essential comfort to children who must leave everything familiar and place their trust in strangers to meet their needs.

Despite our deep appreciation for their tireless commitment, we must confront the pressing capacity crisis faced by child welfare agencies nationwide. The shortage of foster homes is a stark reality. Agencies frequently encounter situations where, after removing a child from their home, no relatives or kin are available, leaving social workers with the daunting task of finding suitable placements. The stress on these front-line workers is immense, but it pales in comparison to the anxiety and uncertainty experienced by the children. Some are left to sleep in emergency shelters, hotels, or even on cots in offices while social workers scramble to provide care.

Becoming a foster parent is not a path everyone can take, but many willing families are hindered by a cumbersome approval process. Prospective foster parents often face long delays, waiting months before even making contact with the child welfare agencies that guide them through a process that can exceed a year. While the licensing process must maintain the highest integrity to ensure children are placed with appropriate, caring individuals, the extended time required to vet, train, and approve foster families often stems from systemic inefficiencies rather than a commitment to integrity.

Prospective foster parents often start the process with complex applications without clear direction on how they will be used. Their confusion causes a back and forth that can last several weeks. Applicants are also commonly tasked with initiating their own background checks, home environmental inspections, and medical examinations leading to an overwhelming feeling that there is too much red tape. Once complete, often families are forced to wait for prescheduled training classes that occur only at specific intervals throughout the year. And once training is completed, these newly trained foster parents must wait more for a licensing social worker to conclude a home visit. A process that can be done in less than 60 days, ends up taking 60 weeks. The worst part, the desire to help these children is replaced with frustration as many applicants withdraw from the process midstream.

It isn’t as if we don’t want to help… Many Foster Care Units are not only responsible for licensing but also for assisting with renewals, finding placements for children, and supporting licensed families adjusting to caring for children from traumatic situations. Each of these job functions is critical to health of the overall foster care system. However, individually, they compete for a worker’s attention and force Foster Care workers to prioritize tasks. Often, we see this prioritization putting placement and renewals ahead of licensing and ongoing support. As a result, fewer families progress through the licensing process, and those already fostering children feel abandoned, left to care for children without adequate agency support. This can lead to foster homes pausing or closing their licenses, further impacting the agency’s ability to find caring families for our most vulnerable children.

So for Foster Care Appreciation month – the best thing way to show our appreciation might be by cleaning up these messy processes. We want to be sure each agency is working with the right kids, in the right placement, for the right amount of time. That means we need to streamline the process so that those loving enough to take the first step to become foster parents are not discouraged by bureaucratic obstacles and we can make a quality licensing decision in weeks not months. We work with agencies to break up the competing priorities and set up a process where each area gets the attention it so needs. Together, we can transform good intentions into fulfilled commitments, ensuring that every child in need finds a loving and supportive home.

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