Length of service for foster parents: Using administrative data to understand retention
Although adoptions from foster care have increased dramatically in recent years, foster homes remain a critical resource within the child welfare system. Research has explored the factors associated with foster parents' decision to continue or cease providing foster care. However, we know little about the length of time for which foster parents provide service, nor about the foster parent characteristics and foster care provision associated with varying length of service. This study used administrative data from three states to conduct longitudinal analyses of foster parenting careers. It builds on previous research by producing the first unbiased estimates of length of service and examining variations in length of service in terms of foster parent characteristics and the amount and type of care provided. Median length of service was between 8 and 14 months. Foster parents with greater length of service are likely to be older; live in urban areas; care for more children at a given time; and care for more infants, adolescents, or children with special needs. In each state, a relatively small group of foster parents provided the majority of caregiving. These findings can guide development of strategies to increase retention and make better use of foster parenting resources.