How Does The Foster Care System Work?

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It’s May, and in the child welfare world — that’s a big deal. Why? Because it’s National Foster Care Month!

For those who might be unfamiliar with the process, we’re here to help explain how foster care works.

How Does The Foster Care System Work?

Child welfare systems are complex and work in tandem with many state and local organizations to keep children safe. It is not a single entity.

While the primary responsibility of child welfare services belong to the states and counties (depending on if the state is county administered), the federal government plays a supporting role in funding and legislation.

Specifically, the Children’s Bureau (CB) implements federal child and family legislation within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

They develop programs that focus on preventing child abuse and neglect by strengthening families, protecting children from further maltreatment, reuniting children safely with their families, or finding permanent families for children who cannot safely return home, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

What Is Foster Care?

Foster care is meant to be a temporary arrangement in which trained caregivers, including kinship or relative caregivers, provide for the care of a child when their biological parent(s) are unable to care for them. Over 77% of all foster children are placed with relatives or non-relative caregivers, while the remainder are placed in group homes (any home that has six or more kids in it, which can also be considered a family household), institutions, or supervised independent living.

All ages, from infants to youth between 18 – 21 years old (depending on the state), are represented in the foster care system, with the median age of entry just 6.1 years of age. While designed to be a temporary arrangement, the average time a young person spends in care is almost 2 years (20.1 months) before they are reunified or exited care to permanency, legal guardianship including adoption, or have emancipated from the system.

The goal for all children is to reunify with their family unless reunification is not possible (parents are dead or incarcerated) or it is not in the best interest of the child (i.e. parents present a real, documented and present danger to the life and health of the child).

Each state provides a subsidy to cover some of the basic costs associated with raising a child. Nationally, these subsidies are less than half of the average amount a family spends to raise a child.

According to the most recent Children’s Bureau statistics, there were an estimated 437,465 children in foster care on September 30, 2016, which is an increase of approximately 10,000 children compared to the same date the year prior. Of these, there are approximately 108,000 foster children eligible for and waiting to be adopted. Tragically, this stat has stayed consistent for the past five years.

How To Foster A Child

There are far too many foster kids in need of a safe place to call home, and not nearly enough foster parents to accommodate them.

Foster families open their homes to care for youth for an extended period of time. Although it’s temporary, becoming a meaningful part of a child’s life is a huge commitment. It is a challenging, but rewarding opportunity for those who have the means to foster a child.

According to the National Foster Parent Association, most agencies will expect you to:

  • Provide 24-hour care and supervision on a daily basis
  • Be able to care for yourself financially without the child’s stipend
  • Be flexible, patient and understanding
  • Have a sense of humor
  • Have a home free of fire and safety hazards
  • Complete a criminal/protective services background check
  • Have the ability to work as a member of a team

Becoming a foster parent can take up to two years from the time you make the decision, to going through orientation, training, and licensing, to finally being matched to a child in need.

If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent, you can reach out to iFoster at, and we will help you identify an agency in your area. An agency will ensure you have the capability (and receive the resources and support you need) to meet the physical, emotional, developmental and financial needs of a child.