How Long Do Kids Stay in Foster Care?

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Foster child thinking
Learning about the foster care system can seem like a daunting task. Where should you start? The best place to begin is with the journey of a child in foster care.

Growing our understanding of a child’s journey through foster care is vital. It is an act of love and advocacy that each one of us can take part in. If you’re not familiar with the foster care system, it can seem overwhelming to learn about. But when we take the time to see even just one child’s story, we can begin restoring their voice, their identity, and the precious value we know they have as a child of God. Knowing how long kids stay in foster care is a good place to start.

Average Time in Foster Care

Children enter the foster care system due to cases of abuse, neglect, or abandonment at home. If a safe, relative caregiver cannot be identified, that child or sibling group is placed in a shelter, group home, or with a foster family. According to the Adoption & Foster Care Analysis & Reporting System (AFCARS), children spend 20 months, on average, in the foster care system in the United States. It’s the same average where 4KIDS, a Christian foster care agency, serves in Florida and Texas. This time may be shorter for some children, but for others, it can be considerably longer.

Those 20 months can be filled with pain and isolation or with hope and restoration. For however long a child may be in foster care, the goal of 4KIDS – and many other Christian foster care agencies – is to provide transformative care during a season that could otherwise feel hopeless to a child in the system.

For many kids who remain in foster care for an extended time, their lives are repeatedly turned upside down. Each move to a different foster home or a different group home can be a difficult transition. In Florida, the average is over three moves per 1,000 days for a child in foster care. That’s essentially one move per year. With each move, trauma is being compounded on the hearts and minds of these children. The ongoing instability deeply affects their lives. Lowering a child’s exposure to trauma is of the utmost importance to our team and our foster families. For this reason, a child in a 4KIDS foster home experiences only .70 moves per 1,000 days. This stability is a beautiful reflection of the faithfulness our foster families extend day in and day out.

Four Pillars for Supporting Foster Families

Typically, the appointed judge and case manager’s role is to determine a child’s length of time in foster care. But caring for kids and families throughout their foster care journey, regardless of how long that road might be, can leave an indelible impression of hope. At 4KIDS, we have seen that taking an approach with these four pillars makes all the difference.

Foster family at a picnic

First, every foster family has a dedicated support specialist to guide them through the foster care system. Secondly, 4KIDS provides a community of support to foster families. The families experience this community in many ways. One example is “Kids Night Out.” At these events, kids get to have fun while pastors and counselors pour into the hearts of their foster parents. We also offer support groups and annual events, like our Christmas party and spring picnic. At these events, peer-to-peer encouragement flourishes between foster families.

The third pillar we facilitate is volunteer efforts. At 4KIDS, we have Family Advocacy Ministry teams (or “FAM” teams) from local churches that wrap around foster families with meals, babysitting, and more. We also have 4KIDS volunteers who commit to providing dedicated support to a foster family for a full year. This commitment builds solid relationships and community.

The fourth pillar is taking a trauma-informed approach with kids and families. We provide trauma-informed training and therapy through a Christian lens with our “EPIC Therapeutic Approach.” While the road through foster care may be long for a child, we can do so much to ensure that they encounter hope, homes, and healing along the way.

Kingston’s Story

Foster mom with young child in foster care

The most impactful way to understand the journey through foster care is by getting to know even just one child’s story. Kingston spent over 1,000 days in foster care with his 4KIDS foster family. The story of Kingston, his foster (and now adoptive) family, and even his biological family paints a beautiful picture of our mission.

Kingston first met his foster (and now adoptive) family when they picked him up on his first day in foster care from a shelter. Three little girls, who would one day become his big sisters forever, instantly adored him. His foster and now adoptive mom, Lauren, said this as she reflected on that very first night with Kingston:

“I was tucking this sweet little boy into bed – this little boy who had a mom and siblings out in the world somewhere. As a mom, I couldn’t imagine the feeling of not knowing where your kid is at any given moment. My heart was broken for this mom, for the brothers and sisters. I was surprised at how hard God laid the gravity of this mother being separated from her kids on my heart. That night was followed by about 1020 more tuck-ins before we were able to finalize his adoption. In between the first tuck-in and the last tuck-in as a foster child, we had an incredible journey. We established a relationship with his biological mother, and we took in and eventually adopted his sister. Having an agency like 4KIDS offered not just a person to talk to when the system was overwhelming but also tangible services to provide solutions that made the foster journey easier to walk through. When Kingston was struggling in pre-school, 4KIDS provided us with therapy through EPIC. Through this program, my son gained coping skills, and the school began to understand him a little better. Along this journey, we laughed at little things, cried at big things, danced in the kitchen, and celebrated birthdays and holidays. My favorite thing we did was become a family.”

Restoration through Christ

Kingston and his forever family are just one of countless examples where beauty came out of ashes. A child’s first day in foster care can look so bleak. Foster care can be a long road to go down. It is so easy to be discouraged by statistics that feel stacked against these kids. Through God’s grace and abounding love, the story can be different, the outcomes can be changed; there is no limit to what God can do through His people to radically impact the lives of kids and families.

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