Providing Foster Care for Adolescents: Barriers and Opportunities
A third of children in foster care are between the ages of 13 and 18 (U.S. DHHS, 2012). Stable foster placements with strong familial relationships have been identified as important to successful permanency outcomes for adolescents in care (Leathers, Falconnier, & Spielfogel, 2010). However, difficulty in recruitment and retention of foster placements for teenagers hinders the ability to achieve permanency for far too many youth (Farmer, Moyers, & Lipscombe, 2004). The purpose of this study is to determine the barriers to providing foster care to adolescents and to uncover ways to address foster parents’ concerns or misconceptions about fostering teens.
This study is part of a larger study conducted to explore the experiences and needs of foster parents in a southwestern state. Foster parents were recruited and participated (N = 650) in an online survey and asked if they were willing to provide foster care to a teenager (age 12-18). If they responded as unwilling, they were asked to identify the reason among seven possible responses and an ‘other’ option allowing for open-ended responses. For those reporting an unwillingness to foster a teen, the frequency for each reason was tabulated. A further thematic analysis of the participants’ qualitative responses to the ‘other’ option was conducted to categorize open-ended comments.
Half of the sample (56%) said they would be unwilling to provide foster care for a teenager. Of those 355 foster parents who were unwilling, 52% reported being worried a teen would be a bad influence on younger children in the home. Forty-four percent were concerned the teen would get into trouble or have difficult behavior, while a quarter believed a teen in foster care was already set in their ways or bad habits. Eighteen percent reported not having the energy to foster a teen. Forty percent offered additional information as to the reason for not fostering a teenager. Further analysis of these responses revealed five overarching barriers: (1) fear or concern about fostering a teen, (2) unprepared or unable to meet needs of teenager, (3) age of other children in the home, (4) timing in their own lives, and (5) preference not to foster a teen due to a bad experience or expertise with another specific group of children.
Conclusions and Implications
This study provides a strong foundation for understanding the concerns and barriers to providing foster placements for teenagers, offering important implications for future policy and practice. The findings suggest that many foster parents choose not to foster teenagers due to previous negative experiences, lack of support, and feeling unprepared to meet the needs of older foster youth as they near the transition to adulthood. The issues uncovered in the findings can be used to inform foster parent training, recruitment efforts, and service planning to better support families who foster teens. By increasing awareness and support related to caring for adolescents in foster care, outcomes for this vulnerable population are likely improved, reducing the number of youth aging out without needed support and preparation for adulthood.