Effective Use of Administrative Data Can Strengthen Efforts to Maintain a Stable Supply of High-Quality Foster Homes

Foster parents are critical to the nation’s child welfare system. In this report, we demonstrate the potential of administrative data to contribute robust evidence in support of child welfare systems’ efforts to maintain a stable supply of high-quality foster homes.

What We Did

In this study, we used longitudinal administrative data from one state child welfare agency to answer questions about: 1) the number of foster homes that open and close each year and the characteristics of these homes and the foster parents; 2) the reasons for home closure; 3) the length of service of foster homes; and 4) the variations in the use of foster homes. The sample for the analysis included 14,834 unique foster homes that opened for the first time between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2016.

What We Found

  • The number of open foster homes was relatively stable year to year. On balance, the opening of new foster homes offset the closing of existing foster homes.
  • The reasons that most foster homes closed fell into two categories: Family requests (related to changes in circumstances, personal, or family issues) and homes that were serving solely as a kin placement and the kinship case ended.
  • For homes that opened for the first time between 2011 and 2015, the median length of service was just under a year.
  • While the age of first-time foster parents was correlated with length of service—with those between the ages of 30 and 39 having the longest median length of service—foster parents of all races had a similar length of service.
  • Homes that are approved to provide care for both male and female children have a longer median length of service in comparison to homes that are approved only for females or males. Homes that are approved to provide care for sibling groups in the same home have a much longer median length of service compared to homes that are not approved to provide care for siblings.
  • Homes with longer lengths of service were more likely to be occupied for a higher percentage of their service time.

What It Means

To test new foster home recruitment and retention strategies, child welfare systems need increased data capacity. This would allow them to ask and answer clearly defined questions about the structure and functioning of their current foster home system. Longitudinal data files can help define questions and provide nuanced answers to those questions, shortening the quality improvement cycle and making it more effective. The current analysis points to opportunities to build a body of evidence that supports innovation through exploring questions about both the process and quality of foster home recruitment and retention work. The 2018 Family First Prevention Services Act, which provides $8 million in competitive grants to states to support the recruitment and retention of high-quality foster homes, could provide an opportunity to build this evidence.

Recommended Citation
Wulczyn, F., Orlebeke, B., Hislop, K., Schmits, F., McClanahan, J., & Huang, L. (2018). The dynamics of foster home recruitment and retention. Chicago, IL: Center for State Child Welfare Data, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
Dynamics of Foster Home Recruitment and Retention