Rethinking Foster Parent Recruitment & Retention

How well I still remember one of the anthems of my generation: “For the times they are a changin’.” And how applicable these words continue to be, especially in our world of Child, Youth and Family Services.

It seems that the past decade and a half has been a blur of major public policy and service delivery paradigm shifts, and these are changes for the better.

One of the most profound changes can be summed up in these words: Foster Care as we have known it for decades is on its way out.

With the advent of California’s “Continuum of [Foster] Care Reform” (CCR) and the plethora of child welfare services reform initiatives at the federal level, the times really are changing. It is time for our industry to snap out of its “Boo-hoo, what are they doing to us now?!” mindset and embrace change, proactively moving forward to make it successful.

This monumental change is exemplified in the role of the “foster family,” soon to be aptly re-branded in California as a “resource family.” The practice of a foster child going into a foster home or group home and basically remaining in the “foster care system” until they age out is ending. Group home placement or “congregate care,” as some refer to it, is rapidly being dismantled and reconstructed to provide only short-term treatment services.

This change is a good thing because no child should be raised in an institutional setting. Foster and adoption services have grown exponentially as a mechanism to quickly establish a permanent family for children and youth in foster care. Therapeutic Foster Care has moved to center stage as the “intervention of choice” for children and youth, including those who have been commercially sexually exploited (CSEC,) and whose lives have been impacted by trauma and adverse childhood experiences.

For all intents and purposes, the role of the traditional foster parent is quickly transforming into a professional parent who serves as a resource to the foster child. There will no longer be “long-term foster care.” In the new paradigm, resource parents will only be providing short-term care to help expedite the child’s move to permanency.

This change in care models will include provision of the following options through resource parents:

  • Emergency shelter services.
  • Short-term foster care bundled with permanency services and supports.
  • Therapeutic Foster Care, with resource parents playing a critical role in the treatment process in order to stabilize children’s behaviors and enhance successful permanency placement.
  • Adoption/guardianship, with resource families becoming the child’s permanent family.

While this shift in care is truly best for foster children and youth, it creates a significant “systems” challenge at the moment because of the lack of a sufficient pool of qualified resource parents. That is not a California problem either; currently, there is a severe shortage of foster parents across the country. For these much-needed changes in public policy to succeed, we must rethink and modify our resource parent recruitment and retention approach.

First, federal and state laws and regulations must change to allow the use of relatives and kin to serve in this resource parent capacity, with equal compensation and access to services. Placing a child with a family member they know reduces the trauma of “stranger care” and increases the likelihood of the child being adopted or the family taking guardianship.

Second, compensate resource parents as professionals! Reducing institutional care will produce a huge savings of public funding. Redirect some of this savings to the resource families to allow them to make resource parenting a career with at least one stay-at-home parent.

Third, resource parents need to receive far more training, services, supports, supervision and guidance. The day and age of dropping off the child and wishing the foster family good luck needs to stop. Improved parenting skills, one-on-one assistance, accountability and oversight will only improve foster child outcomes.

Fourth, there needs to be honest “messaging” about the role, responsibilities and challenges associated with serving children and youth impacted by trauma as a Resource Parent. Sorry, this type of care is not a “love is all you need” service.

Fifth—and this may be wishful thinking—we absolutely need well-orchestrated federal and state resource family recruitment initiatives with sufficient investment to make it work. Right now, there are thousands of agencies, both public and private, across the United States recruiting independently of each other, and there is no consistent messaging, strategy or quality control.

In addition to this lack of strategy, there must be an effort to properly educate the public on the importance, value and positive social impact of becoming a Resource Parent in order to overshadow the stigma created by the sensationalization of a few tragic situations.

Change is inevitable and change can be a good thing. But as we transform our nation’s foster care system, let us do so intelligently and with thoughtful consideration of the Resource Families who will be the backbone of a successful system.

Jim Roberts is the CEO and founder of the Family Care Network and a 42-year veteran of human services. 

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About Jim Roberts 19 Articles
Jim Roberts is the CEO and founder of the Family Care Network and a 43-year veteran of human services.


  1. The movement away from group care began perhaps as long as a decade ago in my area. Treatment resource parents – paid a ‘difficulty of care’ stipend – have been around for as long as 20 or more years.

    When treatment foster care began, a stay at home parent was required. This qualification went out the window long ago, and we more typically have one or two parent working families.

    Treatment resource parents aren’t a panacea. It’s great we have been successful recruiting and supporting children with more intense needs in family homes. However, there are a slice of children bouncing from home to home, and I’m hard pressed to believe that’s healthier than stability in a high quality group home. Also, in my state, the public agency partners with private providers to recruit, train, and support the families. These are businesses that can’t survive unless beds are filled. As a result, more marginal providers may approve and retain marginal families.

    I also wonder sometimes whether reduction of group care is always good. I’m aware of an agency that’s been very successful reducing group care…but 5% are on runaway or incarcerated/detained. Ironically this agency is much lauded for its work reducing group care – why is so little attention paid to what happens to the children?

    When it comes to permanence, compensated resource parents may not be willing to forego the stipend, even with a full adoption subsidy. Treatment resource parenting was never meant to be long-term, but when a youth has bonded with a family and the family refuses permanence, decisions about moving the child become complicated.

    Finally, I’m puzzled as to how availability of treatment treatment resource families will eliminate long-term care…in fact there are times stays are prolonged.

    Across the country, child welfare has become the default provider of care for youth with high intensity mental health needs as well as those with severe developmental disabilities. Although these children are very different from the ‘traditional’ child welfare client, we have the obligation of doing the best by them that we can.

    What we need is a strong continuum of quality options to be able to meet the individual needs of each child. Congregate care may in fact need hto be part of that mix.

    • And i forgot to mention that kin – biological/adoptive or ‘of the heart’ — are always the first option. For many years we’ve approved kin as resource families and provided the foster care subsidy. We are as flexible as possible about waiving non-safety related ‘requirements’ and provide financial support to move into a larger home to accomodate the children.

    • “Difficulty of care” stipends are a big part of the problem, though. Foster parents have a built-in incentive to represent their foster child as being more difficult to care for, as it brings in financial and other resources. This has a negative long-term impact on the child, in the accumulation of negative labels and a reputation for being a “tough kid,” as well as in the impact on self-concept to be told all the time, verbally and non-verbally, that you are too hard for “normal” people to care for.

      The better model is to simply pay foster parents who have proven their ability to work with challenging kids a higher rate, regardless of the child they are caring for. That way, foster parents are rewarded for providing quality care, instead of having their rates dropped, or worse yet, having kids removed to a “lower level of care” when they do a good job and the kids’ behavior improves.

      —- Steve

  2. Having experienced and my family narrowly escaping over two years of legal stonewalling and Child Protective Services abuse of authority, process, and powers red flags come up with the words ‘permanency’ ‘placement’ and ‘resource family’. In this blog and several others, it’s clear that assumptions have already been made (by public opinion) that children STILL need ‘placement away from their siblings, parents, communities and in some cases their state. What I need to see is more emphasis placed in preserving the family unit by providing speed bumps along the way. Part of that path must be to hold other agencies, cabinets, departments, etc accountable and enforce their own policies! I am deeply concerned with the over use of ‘resource family’

    • Re-read my first point! “…federal and state laws and regulations must change to allow the use of relatives and kin to serve in this resource parent capacity, with equal compensation and access to services. Placing a child with a family member they know reduces the trauma of “stranger care” and increases the likelihood of the child being adopted or the family taking guardianship.

  3. Good idea and a presentation on foster care. It is a real challenge to us here in Kenya. I would wish to collaborates with an agency to redirect the resources to professional parents to take good care for the fostered children. These Parents needs trainings, support, supervision and guidance. Our organization called Christian Family does Child Reintegration then to Guardianship and Kinship foster care. Most of the widows here needs to offer both Guardianship and Foster care to needy children here. We need website sponsorship to tell what we are doing to the world. Contact

    • Thank You for this link to compare legislative proposals from State to State, and to for posting the link to the story on Foster Parenting (Times are a changin’)….

  4. Your fifth point strikes home. I’ve been wanting private and public agencies to collaborate to create a campaign awareness to appropriately inform the public. This is so important. I have many ideas but agencies are still hiding behind their “boo-hoo we don’t have any money to contribute” rubric. It is time to step in the 21st century and make the necessary changes by leading a consortium of agencies to lead this effort and take the bull by the horn!

  5. Yes, yes, yes! We need to take the savings from reducing institutional care and use them to compensate resource parents as professionals. Thank you! I left my job as a social worker in DC’s foster care system on January 30 because I could not deal with any more foster parents who provided nothing but room and board–and a pretty measly one at that. I met some incredible foster parents, but most of them wanted younger kids and were really looking to adopt. The only way to find the kind of families these children need is to provide full-time pay so that we can find people who want a career helping at-risk children. But is anyone doing this? At Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, there was a mention that the President’s budget proposes more funding to increase compensation for therapeutic foster care but I can’t find it anywhere. If anybody knows about this or other efforts, please let me know.

    Marie Cohen
    @fostering reform

    • California is looking into this under their Continuum of foster-Care Reform process (CCR) currently in legislation AB403. They want to integrate EPSDT funding into the foster parent rate and have just started a workgroup to develop a recommendation. I am cautiously optimistic!

    • I realize this was months ago so I don’t know whether this will even be read. But I’m confused – how will paying foster families a salary eliminate long term foster care??

      What we already know from extensive experience is that some treatment foster parents receiving a difficulty of care stipend refuse to make the permanent commitment of adoption b/c they’d have to forgo the extra stipend (beyond the adoption subsidy they will receive to meet the special needs of the child.).

  6. Is there a summary of each state’s laws pertaining to termination of parental rights so that a foster child can be adopted? As I understand it, relinquishment ages/requirements vary greatly from state to state, which means, of course, that foster-to-adopt scenarios vary greatly as well.

    • Good question, but I don’t know. I would start by checking the ACF or Databank websites

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