National Foster Care Month: Spotlight on Family Supports
April was Child Abuse and Neglect Awareness Month, and with May in full swing, we are now recognizing National Foster Care Month. It’s a time for us to collectively focus our attention and efforts on the year-round needs of DC children in foster care, and to celebrate the critical loving and supportive role that foster parents play in their lives. Though foster care is a community responsibility, the day-to-day challenges and triumphs of foster children rarely receive the focused attention that they deserve. National Foster Care Month presents an opportunity to open a dialogue about child welfare and the importance of foster care in the District, and shine light on the lives of DC children touched by this important safe haven.
As of August 2016, Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) currently serves over 900 DC children through foster care placements. This is the first time in over a ten years that this number has dropped below 1,000. Though CFSA serves children of all ages, the largest share of DC children in foster care by single age are children under one year, representing 9% of all DC children under 18 in care. Ensuring that foster care is developmentally sensitive for these young children, and that their birth parents are receiving the skills and supports they need to be safe and nurturing parents in the future, is critical.
Child abuse and neglect disproportionately affects children in poverty; this connection is strong and supported by a great deal of research. This important link provides context for the trends we see in the District’s child welfare system: 75% of DC children in foster care come from Wards 7 and 8 where communities have shared the least in the District’s growing prosperity. Furthermore, children of color account for the majority of children in poverty, and we see that 91% of children in foster care are black and 7% are Hispanic or Latino. When parents and caregivers face the challenges of living in concentrated poverty and have difficulty getting the resources they need to support their families, children are at increased risk of entering the child welfare system.
Recognizing the importance of supporting families, CFSA is intentional to support children and families with in-home services when it is safe for the child or to place the child in the care of another family member. As a result, only 36% of the children that CFSA serves are in foster care and about 20% of those children are in kinship foster care. To further its work supporting families, CFSA founded the KinFirst program so that caseworkers can better identify and license kin as foster parents, aligning with its organizational goal of keeping families together and removing children from their homes only as a last resort. As echoed in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2015 report Every Kid Needs a Family, we know that “children do best in families.” Kinship care helps keep a child’s life as close to normal as possible during a period of great instability and potential trauma.
Both foster care, and related kinship care programs, are important work in the District, and we are grateful for the dedication of foster parents, social workers, lawyers and advocates who are making a difference in the lives of foster children. As the month of May continues, we are challenging ourselves and other partners to join us in considering: How do we improve outcomes for children in foster care? How do prevent entry into foster care/ child welfare by better supporting families?
 CFSA Performance Oversight Testimony 2017.