The Foster-Parent Recruitment Crisis in L.A. County by ZIP Code

Newly available data from Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) shows that the county’s foster-parent recruitment crisis extends to most parts of the county.

The number of foster homes (including both county foster homes and private foster family agency homes) has dropped by 52 percent in the decade between 2005 and 2015.

The failure to provide foster homes has placed a strain on the county’s foster care system, particularly as the number of children entering out-of-home care has risen over the past several years.

In January 2011, the total number of children in care was 15,527; five years later that number was 17,783.

As of November 2016, there were 4,018 licensed foster homes in the county (including both county and private foster homes), which translates to 9,193 beds in those homes. According to a geographical analysis of foster parents in the county, a vast swath of the county’s ZIP codes lack sufficient foster homes.

But the problem is particularly acute in parts of the county where higher numbers of children are entering the foster care system.

According to ZIP code-level data from DCFS, the department investigates about 83 percent of allegations of child abuse and neglect. In these cases, DCFS sent out a social worker to conduct an in-person investigation of the allegation when it met a definition of abuse, neglect, or exploitation according to the law.

While certain ZIP codes had relatively few investigations, several areas — including some parts of South Los Angeles and the Antelope Valley — had disproportionately high numbers of investigations.

In the Antelope Valley, an area that includes the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, rates of reported child abuse and neglect are higher than the rest of the county. But the area also has a greater concentration of foster homes than other areas in the county. The maps below include both county foster homes as well as homes with private foster family agencies (FFAs).

Still, it is often not enough to keep up with the number of children who need foster homes.

At the Children’s Bureau, one of the county’s largest foster-family agencies, finding enough foster families is a daily issue, according to Amy Heilman.

“There are many, many children that we can’t place and can’t help because we don’t have enough families,” said Heilman, director of foster care and adoption at the agency.

Heilman said that the Children’s Bureau receives about 50 requests for families a day. Most come from Los Angeles County, but she said that emails also regularly come from Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

“All these counties are competing, trying to find places for these children to go,” she said,

The agency had approximately 300 families in the last fiscal year, with about 150 children in care in a given month.

But the attrition of many foster parents due to adoption and reimbursement rates that have not risen very much over the past 20 years have made recruitment difficult for many FFAs, Heilman said.

The agency has two offices, one near the University of Southern California in South Los Angeles and the other in Palmdale, both of which are in close proximity to areas with the largest number of children entering the system. In South Los Angeles, it relies on two organizations, Child Share and Raise a Child, to provide recruitment services.

One outcome resulting from the lack of foster parents is the county’s reliance on shelter care, which recently expanded to include a series of four private shelters tasked with providing housing to children entering the system under a new, longer, 72-hour license.

The placement of many children in the Antelope Valley and other distant parts of the county presents a challenge to the child welfare system.

Because of the lack of foster homes, children in out-of-home care in Los Angeles County are not always placed close to the communities where they entered the system, complicating the task of reunifying children with birth parents when possible.

Court-ordered visitations – opportunities for birth parents to spend time with children in care – often mean travel times of two to three hours when children are placed in communities like Antelope Valley.

“It’s a huge problem for a lot of parents in our community,” said Kathy Icenhower, the CEO of SHIELDS for Families, a south Los Angeles service provider for children and families. “How can we be sure that our parents are getting the help they need in our treatment program when they have to travel three hours to see their children?”

DCFS has recently increased the number of staff who focus on foster parent recruitment in its bid to find and retain more foster parents.

Sari Grant, head of recruitment for DCFS, is hopeful that new regulations for foster parents under the California’s reform of its foster care system, slated to start in 2017, will also help the recruitment effort.

In the effort to boost the number of families available, DCFS also hopes to make greater inroads in community-specific outreach, including greater collaboration with the faith community.

“It takes a village to recruit a family,” Grant said,

But rebranding or new campaigns alone won’t make a difference in a crisis that touches many different parts of the county’s child-welfare system.

“There’s no magical slogan that everybody’s going to buy into,” Grant said. “Especially when you’re asking people to take in teens and sibling groups, there’s not going to be some magic way that’s going to get people to take teens.”

Arpita Sharma contributed to the data analysis and visualization.

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Jeremy Loudenback, Senior Editor, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Jeremy Loudenback, Senior Editor, The Chronicle of Social Change 352 Articles
Jeremy is a West Coast-based senior editor for The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at


  1. I’ve been a foster parent for the past 3 years in LA County. I’ve experienced CSW who care and those that take every little thing out on the foster parent! Has anyone taken into account just what foster parents do and what they are compensated for for taking care of a child’s 24/7 in sickness and health? $1.24 per hour! Out of that we deduct ALL costs! EVERY LAST COST! Food, clothing, transportation costs, basic housing costs, toys, diapers, wipes, shampoo, laundry detergent, cough meds, school supplies etc…
    I’ve been told by a Social Worker that I am a VOLUNTEER! Not an employee!
    For all of this we are critiqued by bio families, CSW, minor’s counsel. We deal with fragile children and emotional families. We deal with false allegations and threats from insecure families. We deal with little to no immediate support when a child arrives with behavioral issues.
    Forget your “7- day notice”! They don’t exist! We’ve had a child placed with us who had attacked our family and bio children and were repeatedly told they could not find another home for this “HIGH RISK” child. No one had deemed him high risk when asking us to foster him, though!
    This system is broken! I SURVIVED 11 years of the foster system growing up!
    It is the only reason I do it!

  2. Funny how FFA’s complain there is not enough funding yet Fiscal audits show SO MANY that have managed to bilk the system with hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars spent and wasted on unallowable expenditures for the CEO’s/Directors own gain. If there isn’t enough money in rates, how did they manage to do this? Audits don’t lie! The numbers are evidence

  3. Foster Care has become a business! Is anyone asking the kids how they feel in this lost, pathetic system? Everyone is too busy chasing the Dollars and losing any sense! The State is just creating another layer of systems, eliminate Group Homes but allow an individual to have up to 6 foster kids crowded in their home, do daily documentation and mental health services. Just a name change!
    Also, FFA’s are middle-men created about 15 years ago to do the job of the County DCFS department. They suck up tax dollars, whine about not enough funding yet still manage to rob taxpayers with excessive unallowable spending as evidenced by Fiscal Audits.

  4. I like the cute little tools that are used to track foster care in this article. The blue and green hues would be much better than red orange ones. Besides the problem of finding foster carers, the other problem la county might need to focus on is HOW they treat the foster parents they already have. I’ve seen great threads full of foster parent stories describing abusive social workers and supervisors who seem to treat them poorly. If you haven’t got enough foster homes, it’s your own fault for treating people so poorly.

  5. “Because of the lack of foster homes, children in out-of-home care in Los Angeles County are not always placed close to the communities where they entered the system, complicating the task of reunifying children with birth parents when possible.”

    It’s an admirable ideal to want to reunify families. Yet the child back to a dysfunctional abusive home is seen over and over again. In many reunification is not in the best interests of the child/minor.

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