Last month I shared the steps to becoming a licensed foster home in Iowa. This month I want to share more about the kids who are in foster care. What are the most pressing needs in the foster care system currently? Who are these kids in need of homes? How long are children likely to be in a foster home?
Who Are the Kids in Foster Care?
Most kids in care likely fit the definition of “special needs.” You may think of a medical or developmental disability when you hear the phrase “special needs.” The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) has a more broad definition, however. According to DHS, a child with “special needs” will be in one or more of the groups below, making her more difficult to place in a foster home:
- A Caucasian child age 8 or older
- A minority or mixed-race child age 2 or older (this child typically needs placement with one or more older siblings)
- A child with a medically-diagnosed disability that substantially limits activities or requires professional treatment, assistance in self-care, or special equipment
- A child who is a member of a sibling group of 3 or more
- A child with an intellectual disability
- A child with a psychiatric condition
- A child with a behavioral or emotional disorder
In 2014, 63% of children adopted out of foster care in the U.S. were identified as kiddos with special needs. Although this certainly includes all children with disabilities, each state has additional criteria for which kids fall into the special needs category, such as the list for the state of Iowa above.
These special needs are things to think about as a foster family when you are considering which children you could best serve. Our family, for example, would be very comfortable fostering a medically-fragile or -complex child because we have experience with our own son’s medical issues. We have a preference for a child younger than our son, of any racial background, and potentially part of a sibling group of two.
At the end of the TIPS-MAPP (Trauma Informed Partnering for Safety and Permanence: Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) training course, you will fill out an extensive list of preferences for the child(ren) you think would best fit into your family. Now, it’s very likely you’ll get placement calls for children who don’t exactly fit your profile because of the great need for foster homes in general, but you always have the choice of whether to take a child into your home.
Areas of Greatest Need
Among the greatest needs for foster homes in Iowa are families that can take placement of sibling groups. Whenever possible, sibling groups are kept together. These children have already lost so much–their familiar home environment, their parent(s), their neighborhood, possibly their school–that DHS really tries to keep siblings together. It’s important for you to consider ahead of time whether you would be open to fostering a sibling group of two or three (or more!). You may even be granted a waiver to take more children than your license allows, again due to the importance of keeping siblings together if possible.
Another big need is families that can foster teens. If you have a teenager, you know that even under the best of circumstances, this age group can be challenging! When you add the change and disruption of entering foster care to a teen’s life, you can imagine that additional challenges beyond the “normal teen” issues may arise. When we took our licensing class, there were several families who were specifically looking to foster parent teenagers. Some people have that gift!
Infants & Toddlers
Foster homes are needed to nurture infants or toddlers. In many cases, these children have complex medical needs or significant behavioral challenges. It was made very clear in our licensing class that if you are interested in adopting an infant out of foster care, you may have a very long wait. This is in part due to the fact that reunification of the child in care with his biological parents is truly the goal of foster care. If you are only interested in fostering babies who are eligible for adoption, there may be better/faster alternatives for you to grow your family.
Yet another need is for foster families who can support LGBT youth. There can be very specific needs with these kids, and they may require a lot of support, understanding, and encouragement. DHS and its support agencies like Four Oaks and Lutheran Services have many resources in place to support you as a foster family to an LGBT youth.
Length of Time in Care
Another aspect of children in foster care is the length of time they spend in care. About 63% of foster kids are in a foster home for less than two years, with about 4% in care for five or more years. When you have a child placed in your home, you most often know the anticipated length of care, but that can be subject to significant variation depending on the individual circumstances.
It is not uncommon for kids in foster care to have multiple placements for a variety of reasons. They may move back home with their parents, only to be removed from the home again. The initial foster home may end up not being a good fit for one reason or another. A family member may step up and agree to foster a relative child. If you put yourself, as an adult, in the situation of bouncing around, not feeling 100% secure with your living situation, it would be a challenge. Now think about a child who hasn’t developed coping skills to deal with that kind of uncertainty. For these reasons, it is especially important to think about what children would best fit into your family to try to avoid them being shuffled around to multiple homes.
If you are considering becoming a foster family, hopefully this information will provide a springboard for your discussions. Knowing the areas of greatest need may help you decide which children in care would best fit into your family.