Rethinking Foster Parent Recruitment

Progress toward a lifetime commitment to permanence has stagnated over the past decade at just under three-fourths of those children and youth in care. The reunification rate has slipped from 53 percent to 51 percent. Adoptions have stayed the same at 21 percent, according to the latest AFCARS report. The remaining 28 percent of children leaving temporary care are either under legal guardianship, staying with kin, or emancipated to what has euphemistically been called “independent living.”

Adding to the problem is a national shortage of foster homes. Although general scarcity varies by state and county, foster homes for special populations are in universal demand. Homes are needed for sibling groups, minorities, and health-challenged children. The availability of homes, temporary or permanent, is most desperate of all for teens.

Clearly we must continue to work as promptly and effectively as we are able for reunification or adoption. But what else can we do when our efforts to focus on reunification and adoption fall short? Perhaps it is time to rethink our initial approach to permanency for these youngsters.

You Gotta Believe in New York has successfully reversed the usual parent-recruitment process. Instead of finding a home for the older child, they start by asking the child for names of adults that he already gets along with, in whose presence he feels comfortable, maybe even happy. Who might that be? Perhaps an aunt or uncle, teacher, neighbor, parents of a childhood friend, coach, probation officer, caseworker, minister, mentor, anyone with whom the child feels an attachment. Then they contact that person and tell them that Johnny or Sally likes them, and invite the person to come by the office to discuss how to be of further help.

Attachment is a general term that refers to the many situations where we relate and connect to one another. Attachments are ubiquitous. All relationships begin with an attachment. Encourage the connection.

As that attachment becomes more secure and necessary, bonding may result. Bonding occurs naturally over time by sharing important events in daily life. Bonding has been defined as “a significant reciprocal attachment which both parties want and expect to continue, and which is interrupted or terminated at increased peril to the parties involved.”

Suppose the relationship does not lead to a formal adoption. Nothing is lost. The connection is what it is and still may last a lifetime. Couples today are remaining together for years without the formality of marriage. A significant attachment (bonding) might even be seen as an informal adoption.

How might the attaching adult and child come together after foster care? Each situation will be unique. An uncle might begin by visiting the foster home intermittently. When the child is about to age out of the system, the uncle might help with finding housing or a job. A young woman might develop a close friendship with a girlfriend while in school. The woman might get to know the whole family and continue to be included in all their holiday and family celebrations.

The desired and necessary outcome is lifetime support for every child. Nothing is lost in our pursuit of permanence by starting with an already existing attachment.  If we fail to achieve a formal lifetime commitment, the intensity and lastingness of the informal relationship may surprise.

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Jim Kenny
About Jim Kenny 36 Articles
Jim Kenny is a retired psychologist with over 50 years of clinical experience. The author of 13 books on family and child care, Dr. Kenny’s recent books are Attachment and Bonding in the Foster and Adopted Child and What Foster Parents Need to Know.


  1. If you want to attract foster parents, quit destroying the ones you have. We fostered and adopted. When we tried to get help with our special needs children and had some things investigated we discovered that my son had molested my daughter. Well guess what. The county turned around and charged us with sexual abuse by omission put us on a lengthy two year trial, ruled us guilty. Terminated the right of our two younger children, brainwashed the perpetrator into staying in foster care till he was 21, forced us to pay child support on him till he was 21, sent my one son home that they could not brainwash he has a dual diagnosis of autism and mental retardation. He was abused in every single way in foster care came home with PTSD. They destroyed my career as a school bus driver. Because of the record they put on us. Now why would anybody want to go through this why would anybody voluntarily do this? I would discourage anybody anybody from getting into foster care and adopting. It will destroy your life. The legal fees and the child support and everything else cost us at least $60,000. This has everything to do with the adoption and safe family act, drafted by Killary which in order to get the adoption incentive, you have to increase the amount of the adoptions every single year. Well apparently they are running out of children because they are recycling them. They’re taking adopted children and re-adopting them. Talk about trust issues in these children how are they ever ever ever going to feel secure in a family? Everything I believed about foster care and adoption has been turned upside down. I have met so many good loving Christian families that have had their children stolen and they are good and loving families. They’re taken for things as trivial as the child sleeping in the parents bed, the child being spanked not abusive spanking just regular spanking. Grandparents have spent their life savings trying to get their grandchildren back. Kinship care is not even allowed in most cases, not because they’re not fit but because the funding is better if they’re adopted.

  2. If you’re thinking about getting into foster care question talk to adoptive parents who have had the county flip on them. The ones who have reported a problem and been charged with a crime. The ones that have tried to get help for their adopted children and had their adopted children stolen from them. The ones who have been forced to pay child support on their adopted children. Even when they’re adopted child is 19 years old, not in school and working full-time. Being forced to pay child support to this child is 21 years old. Having to listen to your son cry at visits because he so homesick and is being abused in foster care. When there is nothing you can do being put on trial for trying to get help for your children. Being charged with sexual abuse by omission when you had a suspicion that your son may have abused your daughter. Having your career destroyed because of this. It’s put on your record. When all you wanted to do was help children and then get help for them and their issues. Not being able to get help for your four adopted children’s special needs. Talk to these parents before you even think about work working for this corrupt organization. Foster care or adoption. Be prepared to lose everything. Your house your reputation Your sanity. Be prepared to get PTSD. Be prepared to never trust anybody ever again. Be prepared to cry yourself to sleep missing your children.

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