How to harness numbers to set better expectations
When you decide you’re going to become a foster parent, you sign up for 30+ hours of classes, find an agency that will pick your personal story and life apart, and you’ll literally label containers in your linen closet so you know where Hydrocortisone cream is for your home inspection. The preparation to become a foster parent is unreal—and crucial.
I feel like Nick and I did a lot of preparing of our home, our hearts, and our heads on how to parent children in foster care. We did extra reading on trauma-informed parenting, sensitive discipline, and boundary setting with extended family and friends.
What we didn’t dive deep into was the data behind the machine of foster care and the Department of Child Services.
Now, I can’t say that digging into data really is the most important, crucial part of foster care. At the end of the day, your role and job is to care for the child in your home.
However, if you’re anything like Nick and I and you want to be eyes wide open on all the hard, challenging parts of this journey it can be helpful to know the numbers behind what will happen with your child’s case.
Know The Big Picture
As of July 2018, 13,578 children (age 0-17 years old) were in the care of the state in AZ alone. This means the kids are either in a foster family’s home, with a family member designated as a kinship foster family, or in a group home. Forty two percent of children were with foster placements, 39% in kinship care, and the remaining in group homes.
The majority of these children (78%) are placed in foster care because of neglect. Eighteen percent are placed because of physical abuse and the final four percent because of sexual and emotional abuse.
Arizona is a leading state in neglected and abused children. Research points to substance abuse as the primary cause and the lack of rehabilitation resources for birth parents as a contributing factor.
Know The Case Data
Once a child is in your home, there’s a 40% chance the child will have permanency within 12 months of removal (either reunification, adoption, or guardianship). That means there is a 60% chance it takes longer than 12 months before permanency is determined. This is something we had maybe heard at some point during training or our home study. Personally, I don’t remember this at all but Nick assures me we were given this ratio.
The breakdown of permanency types (irrespective of duration) is as follows: 49% chance of reunification, 34% of adoption, 7% of guardianship, and 11% chance of longterm foster care/aging out of the system.
As foster-to-adopt placement, it is key for us to understand and know in our bones that the data shows it much more likely for a child will be reunified than go up for adoption.
Once reunified, 12% of families re-report within 12-months of reunification and 5% of children re-enter foster care within 6 months of exiting care.
The average case lasts 18-months. Nearly all cases have a reunification case plan.
Know The Legalities
Time in Care
When you’re in foster care training, you might find yourself asking one of the most basic questions of a foster parent: how long does this typically last? Is there a deadline that I can put on my calendar so my heart gets a heads up?
We thought the answer was what we understood we heard: a ‘fix’ must be established by so many months for infants and toddlers in care and by so many months for children up to 18 years old. If the family doesn’t make the ‘fixes’ they need to make by those timelines, parental rights are severed.
Summary: The amount of time a child spends in care cannot be used as a reason for a case plan change as a parent is participatory and making improvements. Example: An infant can be in foster care for 3-years and still be eligible for reunification with her birth parents.
There is no hard and fast legal limit to time in care.
In my mind, progress included rehabilitation and verbalized remorse and regret. I assumed the state wanted more than just a sober parent—but a parent who was upset at their mistakes and ready to make a change too.
This isn’t the case.
Progress is measured in black and white parameters related directly to the reasons for removal (i.e. neglect, homelessness, anger, substance use, etc.). If a parent doesn’t have any drug in their urine samples and he or she shows up to parent visits (despite not having all of the necessary materials), it is still seen as an overwhelming success.
To understand why governments view parental progress with such generosity, it’s key to remember that many of the parents of kids in foster care have their own traumatic backgrounds. No parent with a traumatic background has all of the tools they need to parent successfully otherwise they wouldn’t be in this scenario in the first place.
Understanding that aspect of the state’s response to a case is key when you’re asking yourself how a parent’s seemingly tiny progress is considered grounds for reunification measures.
Know That You Can Change Your Expectations
At the end of the day, we’ve learned a lot in this journey and its not even over. What we’ve learned has helped us reshape our misguided expectations and given us a better understanding of what is possible in foster care.
 DCS Source
 Re-reporting could mean additional services within the home or a safety plan of family or friends designated as supervision of the parent(s) with the children.