National Foster Care Month
National Foster Care Month is an annual observance in the United States that raises awareness about the needs of children in foster care and the importance of supporting and providing safe and loving homes for them. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed May as the first National Foster Care Month, stating that “Foster parents deserve our thanks and encouragement for their important work in the protection of children who have been removed from their homes.”
Since then, National Foster Care Month has been celebrated annually with various activities, events, and initiatives aimed at raising public awareness, recruiting foster families, and supporting the well-being of children in foster care. This month serves as an opportunity to recognize the dedication and commitment of foster parents, social workers, advocates, and community members who play a vital role in the lives of children in foster care.
According to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), in 2021, 437,283 children (about half the population of Montana) were in the U.S. foster care system. In addition to a stable, loving home, these children also need education and school support, emotional and mental health support, healthcare and medical support, among others. Thanks to various federal policies and organizational initiatives, foster care families now have more resources and support available to support these children.
A few notable foster care policies and initiatives that have shown positive impacts include:
The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA): Enacted in 1997, ASFA placed a greater emphasis on child safety and permanency. It set strict timelines for decision-making regarding the permanent placement of children in foster care. ASFA aimed to reduce the time children spend in foster care by promoting timely reunification with their families, adoption, or placement with guardians. ASFA emphasized the importance of permanency and prioritized the well-being of children, promoting adoption as a viable option when reunification with birth families is not possible. It also provided financial incentives for states to increase adoptions. ASFA has led to increased adoption rates and reduced the time children spend in foster care.
The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act: Passed in 2008, this legislation expanded federal support for foster care programs. It aimed to improve outcomes for older youth, promote kinship care, and enhance support for educational stability and independent living services. The act provided funding for services such as extended foster care for young adults up to age 21, improved health care access, and educational support for youth in foster care.
Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA): Passed in 2018, FFPSA aimed to shift the focus of child welfare from a primarily reactive system to one that emphasizes prevention and family support. It increased funding for prevention services, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, parenting skills training, and kinship navigator programs. FFPSA also prioritized family-based placements over congregate care settings and implemented stricter guidelines for the use of federal funds for group home placements.
Trauma-Informed Care: Recognizing the impact of trauma on children in foster care, there has been a growing emphasis on trauma-informed care within the foster care system. This approach considers the child’s traumatic experiences and promotes strategies to support their healing, well-being, and development. Trauma-informed care focuses on creating safe and nurturing environments, training caregivers and professionals in trauma-responsive practices, and ensuring that services are sensitive to the unique needs of children who have experienced trauma.
Ongoing research and evaluation help inform policymakers and stakeholders about the effectiveness of different approaches to continuously improve the foster care system. The Woolf Group (TWG) is inspired by the collaboration between government agencies, nonprofits, and community organizations working to support children and youth, particularly those in foster care. It’s been an honor providing opportunities to advocate for policy changes and improvements in the child welfare system, promoting positive outcomes for children in need of safe and nurturing environments. This month in particular, TWG would also like to shine a light on the nonprofits and lawmakers who deserve thanks and encouragement for the mostly unseen but critically important work they are doing to protect these vulnerable children.
By Cindy Johnson, TWG Research Specialist & Strategy Consultant