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Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents

By Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner, Children’s Bureau

Most birth and foster parents have the same goal—improving the health and happiness of children and youth. That is the message shared by the Cassidys, seasoned foster parents whose experience is featured as part of the National Foster Care Month 2019 real-life stories narratives. Specifically, the Cassidys share their experience of how helping a child includes helping to mend and promote healthy relationships with a child’s family member. Through true partnerships, and by listening to the birth families of the children they cared for, the Cassidys were reminded that there is another side to every placement.

This is just one of the many powerful stories highlighted during National Foster Care Month 2019. The stories illustrate how supportive networks can strengthen families and improve outcomes for children and families involved with foster care. The Cassidy’s story personifies the theme for National Foster Care Month 2019—“Foster Care as a Support to Families, not a Substitute for Parents.”

This year’s theme recognizes those who provide support to families at the time when they need it the most and care for children until they can safely return home. This can only happen when all parties involved in the family’s life work together. Collaborative relationships—relationships between foster parents and birth parents or relationships between child welfare professionals, families, and community partners—help drive healthy and thriving children and families.

The child welfare field has tremendous opportunities to rethink how the foster care experience itself, when necessary, can support, rather than harm, the parent-child relationship and strengthen this essential component of well-being. Many children in the foster care system have at least one family member working hard so that their child can return home safely. [1]In fact, 49 percent of children who exited foster care in fiscal year 2017 left to be reunited with their birth parents or primary caretakers.

Join the Children's Bureau in supporting this year’s theme by visiting the National Foster Care Month website to find tips on how to engage the community, build collaborative relationships, and implement targeted support services. The website also shares real-life stories, like the Cassidy’s,that shed light on how child welfare systems can help strengthen families' ability to nurture and provide support for their children. These stories offer a first-person perspective from children, youth, families, and professionals involved with the child welfare system. The Spread the Word section of the National Foster Care Month website provides images, outreach, and social media messages that point to resources that promote family stability and preservation as well as to resources to help prevent reentry into foster care.

During May, and all year long, we salute all the caregivers, case managers, community-based service providers, and volunteers who nurture and support children and families working toward reunification or permanency. Visit the 2019 National Foster Care Month website today to learn more about how you can help keep families healthy, strong, and together.


[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau. (2018). The AFCARS report: Preliminary estimates for FY 2017 as of August 10, 2018 (25). Retrieved from

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