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May 2013Vol. 14, No. 4The Public's Perception of Foster Care

While most Americans have a largely positive attitude toward the nation's foster care system, they view it as less important than other serious social issues. These attitudes and the overall perception of foster care in the United States is the focus of a study published in a recent issue of Children and Youth Services Review.

Just over 300 respondents completed a phone survey on a range of questions pertaining to their general knowledge of foster care. The survey consisted of 55 questions, 15 true-false questions about general foster care knowledge, 27 questions assessing attitudes about foster care and foster families, and 3 comparison questions that examined the relative importance of foster care among other social issues. Findings include the following:

  • More than 40 percent of respondents identified as having some personal experience with foster care.
  • More than 56 percent correctly identified neglect as the leading cause of entering care, while a significant portion incorrectly identified physical or sexual abuse as the primary reason a child enters care.
  • More than 90 percent of respondents reported knowing that foster parents can adopt a child after serving as a temporary caregiver, and more than 73 percent knew that training is required to be a foster parent.
  • While over 66 percent reported that they Agree/Strongly Agree that the Federal Government should spend more to support the foster care system, a majority of respondents rated foster care as less serious and less deserving of Federal funds than education or health care.

The authors note that without an accurate understanding of the public's knowledge and perception of foster care, it is difficult to debunk negative stereotypes, promote positive policies, and recruit prospective foster families. For example, a majority of survey respondents agreed to the falsehood that foster parents receive a salary in addition to funds to provide for children's basic needs.

"Public Perception of the Foster Case System: A National Study," by C. Leber and C. Winston LeCroy, Children and Youth Services Review, 34(9), 2012, is available for purchase via ScienceDirect: