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TAGS: Becoming A Foster Parent
Written by Washington Foster Team
May 27, 2020

“Imagine if you woke up with a different family every 9.3 days for years.” — Robert Latham, “This is not okay — Visualizing foster care placement instability”

Children in foster care tend to move a lot.

An investigative report by Florida journalists sought to dive deep into the question of instability. For a significant population of foster children, stays of only a few days at a single home were common. In one example, a child moved to 36 different homes, many before he was five years old.

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The effect of instability on foster children is profound. It impacts their mental health, emotional well-being, ability to form meaningful relationships, and educational outcomes.

It also typically drives them to develop behavioral issues that make it more likely they will be removed from homes and moved again, which only adds to the root of the problem.

Tackling instability demands understanding the factors that cause it in the first place, and foster parents are in an ideal position to do so. 

Why Foster Parents Need To Know What Impacts Stability


Understanding the factors that lead to instability is the first step to equipping foster parents with the tools to anticipate and prepare for those challenges.

For example, older youth typically have higher rates of instability, in part because they have more mobility. Foster parents who take placement of older youth can enroll in training programs to learn how to address these issues and decrease the likelihood of another move.

Instability comes from lots of sources. From a foster child’s age to the capacity of their caseworker, there is no single reason why children are more likely to experience instability. Here’s a summary of the most common factors. 

Child-Specific Factors

  • Abuse vs. Neglect — Children separated from their home because of abuse are more likely to experience instability than those who suffer neglect. 
  • Age — As mentioned previously, older youth are more likely to suffer instability. This may be due to additional mobility, more experiences of trauma, or even a pre-existing history of instability, mental health issues, and behavioral problems. 
  • Poor Well-Being — Behavioral, medical, or developmental issues make children as much as three times more likely to be moved

Placement Factors

  • Time in Out-of-Home Care — The longer a child spends in foster care, the more likely it is they’ll have multiple placements. Only 36% of children in foster care for more than two years had fewer than two placements. 
  • First Placement — When children are placed with family first, their stability rates increase. If placed in a group home, they’re more likely to have increased instability. 
  • Group Home Population — Children placed in group homes with more children are more likely to experience instability vs. homes with fewer children. 

System Factors

  • Caseworker Consistency — Losing a caseworker impacts the support systems of children and foster parents, both of which can lead to increased instability. 
  • Cultural Understanding — When agencies and caseworkers are unable to realize a child’s needs, like providing adequate language services, instability goes up. 

Foster Parent Factors 

  • Empathy — Foster parents who exhibit strong empathy are more likely to improve outcomes for a child’s stability. 
  • Flexibility — Adapting to new situations is a characteristic of foster families who provide more consistent, stable homes for children. 
  • Support — When a foster family has support from their agency, other foster families, and friends, they can lean on that support at times when they might otherwise ask for a child to be removed.

To combat these components, foster parents should take a proactive approach to prepare for the challenges of instability. 

How Foster Parents Can Reduce Instability


Foster parents are on the front lines of every foster child’s battle with instability. It is their responsibility and an opportunity to significantly improve a child’s chances of finding a safe, secure, loving home.

You can provide foster children with a higher chance of stability through the following:

1. Proactive Learning

Become an expert about your child.

If your child has behavioral issues, find a non-profit offering training programs related to the issues they face.

Read articles, talk to parents who have fostered similar children, and take every opportunity to find out how you can better serve your foster child. 

2. Being Consistent

A foster child might have moved a dozen times before they arrive at your home.

Accept that instability might be their norm and use it as motivation to show them that they deserve a consistent, loving home they can count on. 

3. Supporting Reunification

Nothing can compare to the bond a child has with their parents. Make an effort to get to know them and foster connections between them and their child.

When you form meaningful relationships with a child’s parents, you’re more likely to learn things about your child that will help their transition into your home, like their favorite foods, their bedtime routine, or even their favorite games. 

4. Finding Support

Putting an end to instability isn’t easy, especially if you’re caring for a child with a history of behavioral issues. But you don’t have to do it alone.

Take advantage of respite care, talk with fellow foster parents, and attend support groups arranged by local non-profits or your agency. Use whatever support you can so that you’re fit to support a child who needs you in a big way.

Start curbing the problem of instability now. Find out how you can help in this free guide to becoming a foster parent in WA

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