Like all families, kids and families involved with the foster care system need support from their communities to thrive and succeed. Whether through fostering, advocating, volunteering or donating, everyone can help children who are experiencing foster care this awareness month.
When a foster care placement is made, children must adjust to new everything: home, caregivers, school, rules and norms, and community. It can be overwhelming for everyone involved, particularly for youths in the foster care system who already struggle both academically and socially, experiencing placement instability and frequent moves while awaiting reunification or adoption.
According to nonprofit Adopt US Kids, the average age of a foster child is eight years old and the average time spent in foster care is nearly 20 months. While the goal is reunification for the majority of cases, more than 2,000 Washington foster kids are waiting for adoptive families.
Within three years of entering foster care, approximately 57 percent of children will be reunified with their parents; 16 percent will be adopted; five percent are placed with a guardian; three percent become emancipated; and 16 percent remain in foster care. Approximately a third of Washington youths who have spent time in foster care experience homelessness by the time they turn 21.
Moreover, foster care does not impact all children and families equally: nationally, Black children are more than twice as likely to be placed in out-of-home care, and the rates are even higher for Hispanic and Indigenous youths. LGBTQ+-identified children are also overrepresented in the system, as are children from lower-income communities.
There is reason to be optimistic, however: the number of children experiencing foster care in Washington state has been trending downward for the past several years. And, the number of youths in kinship care (placed with a relative) is higher than the national average, resulting in more positive outcomes for them, including better mental health outcomes and stronger connections to siblings, cousins and other extended family members.
Ready to take action? Check out these volunteer opportunities supporting foster families in western Washington
Foster care exists to provide safe, temporary homes for kids who cannot live with their families. It is a common misconception that foster kids are “bad”; the reality is they are in the foster care system because of circumstances beyond their control, they have almost certainly dealt with multiple traumas, and like every kid they need patience, support and connection.
Fostering is for anyone who wants to help: whether you stay home or work out of the house, rent or own your home, are single, divorced, married or in a partnership, are heterosexual, gay, pansexual, transgender or non-binary, you can be a foster parent or kinship caregiver.
Children are removed from their homes and placed in foster care due to any number of reasons, the most common, by far, being neglect. Regardless of the reason for the child’s removal, this is an upsetting and confusing time – a time when a nurturing foster family, with the support of community partners and support staff, can have a positive impact on a child’s well-being.
As a foster parent, you are an investing in a child’s future and changing your community, but the experience may not be easy. Foster parenting requires flexibility. There is no knowing when you may be asked to help or for how long; children may stay with you for days, months, or years. While the goal is usually reunification with the birth parents, it can be painful to have a child leave the home when reunification occurs.
To make the experience easier financially, the government provides stipends to cover some expenses; nonprofits rely on donor support to help fill in the gaps.
If fostering-to-adopt is your goal, know that only 16 percent of foster children are ultimately adopted by a non-family member. The Northwest Adoption Exchange works with families and individuals in Washington, Oregon and Alaska to find adoptive homes for youths experiencing foster care.
- Becoming a foster parent through the state of Washington (Department of Youth and Family Services)
- The Washington Fosters website provides information about becoming a licensed foster parent through private agencies
- Listen: Stories of those impacted by foster care (Fostering Family)
- People of UW: Meet foster care advocate LeAnne Wiles
- Three things youth in foster care want you to know before you start fostering (YMCA of Greater Seattle)
- The Washington State Parent Ally Committee (WSPAC) brings the parent voice into the development of child welfare policy and practice; promotes equity for those in the child welfare system; and elevates diverse life experiences and public awareness activities that strengthen and support those families.
Volunteering your time, donating your money or resources, using your voice as an advocate and fostering are meaningful ways to help provide foster families with the support they need to thrive. If fostering is not an option, and advocacy is not your thing, consider these additional opportunities to support foster kids and their families:
Donation drives ensure youth in foster care have access to the clothing, shoes, toiletries, self-care items and school supplies they need to succeed in school, feel good about themselves and fit in with their peers.
Office Moms & Dads: Made up of a community of qualified volunteers, Office Moms & Dads partners with child welfare services to create a nurturing environment for children entering foster care. As a volunteer, you keep children occupied and safe during the transition while social workers take care of arrangements behind the scenes.
Seattle Angels is the local chapter of National Angels, a nonprofit that provides wraparound support to fostering families. There are many ways to get involved; give intentionally (check out the amazing Love Box Program), build relationships, or mentor.
Fostering Family Washington is a community-wide initiative whose goal is to make people more aware of the foster care experience, and inspire community action to support kids and families.
The Wishing Well Foundation has a mission is to provide the clothing, supplies and experiences that are unavailable to most foster kids, and to retain quality foster homes in Pierce County by addressing financial barriers to accepting foster placements.
Together We Rise helps children in several ways including three main programs we use to support children in foster care: Sweet Cases, Building Bikes, and our Family Fellowship Scholarship Program.
Support through UWCFD
Consider setting up payroll deduction or making a one-time gift through the UWCFD to any of the following organizations supporting foster youth in Washington:
Treehouse (charity code 0315399): We envision–and strive to create–a world where every child that has experienced foster care has the opportunities and support they need to pursue their dreams and launch successfully into adulthood. Treehouse provides academic and other essential support for more than 8,000 youth in foster care across Washington state each year.
Amara (charity code 0456683) is committed to positive long-term outcomes for children and families. We drive systemic change, promote healing, and advance racial and LGBTQIA+ equity, by offering programs and services to families engaged in foster care, and to adoptees and families, post-adoption.
Children’s Home Society of Washington (charity code 0315336) provides six core services: adoption, family support, child and family counseling, out-of-home fostering/residential treatment, early learning, and advocacy.
Foster Hearts (charity code 1482954) provides personal items and life-enhancing opportunities for children in foster care: belongings, such as food, clothes, hygienic products and school supplies, as well as experiences to call their own.
Friends of Youth (charity code 0316260): A continuum of youth/family services, residential treatment, foster care, substance abuse services, transitional housing, shelter, outreach support for young families, counseling and youth development.
Secret Harbor (charity code 0315423) provides safe places and services for youths who have experienced serious trauma and family disruption due to abuse and neglect. Programs are community-based residential treatment, therapeutic foster care and in-home family support.
Youthnet (charity code 0315864) is a multi-service non-profit social service agency serving youth and families in NW Washington. Programs include transition services, family preservation services, parent education and independent living skills development.