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August 2007Vol. 8, No. 7Foster Parents Who Stay

Determining the factors that influence foster parent retention may have a long-term effect on agencies and on the children they serve. Administrative data analysis can be a useful way to gauge foster parent retention and length of service. A recent study published in the Children and Youth Services Review looked at placement records for children, individual foster parent characteristics, and foster parenting records in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Oregon to examine foster parent involvement and variations in length of service.

The study found that the care provided by foster parents is unevenly distributed. Across the three States, 20 percent of the foster parent population provided 60 to 80 percent of the foster care. This evidence suggests that there is a greater need to identify and retain qualified foster parents to improve child outcomes.

Looking at foster parent length of service by State, the study found that the median length of service ranged from 8 to 14 months, which is less than the length of stay of many children in foster care. Between 47 and 62 percent of foster parents in these States exited the system after 1 year of service. The percentages for parents staying active after 1 year of foster parenting were 40 percent for New Mexico, 53 percent for Oklahoma, and 38 percent for Oregon.

Parents caring for infants, adolescents, and children with special needs usually stayed active for longer periods of time. Older parents and those in urban areas were often able to care for children for much longer. These homes were usually favored by child welfare workers and consequently shouldered a greater share of the responsibility for caring for children.

"Length of Service for Foster Parents: Using Administrative Data to Understand Retention," by Deborah Gibbs and Judith Wildfire, was published in the Children and Youth Services Review, Volume 29, and can be purchased online: