With approximately 443,000 children in America's child welfare system, the need for foster parents is overwhelming. Yet a commonly cited reason people don't become foster parents is their concern about being able to meet the demands of work.
FosterMore, a Los Angeles-based organization working to create greater understanding, empathy and action to improve the future of youth in foster care, launched the Foster Care Friendly Workplace initiative to encourage supportive workplaces for employees willing to open their homes—and their hearts—to children. The initiative has developed a Foster Care Friendly Workplace Certification for employers that adopt a set of policies to help workers who are fostering a child, for instance by providing:
- Up to three weeks of 100 percent paid child-bonding leave (or up to five weeks of leave at 66 2/3 percent of employees' base pay) for new foster parents when a child is placed in their home.
- Up to 12 weeks of time off from work during the first year after the arrival of an employee's foster child, which can be taken all at once or intermittently in increments of one week or greater.
Optional practices that the initiative encourages include onsite training for employees who are interested in becoming certified foster parents.
SHRM Online recently spoke with Glen Friedman, co-chair of the Foster Friendly Workplace initiative, and Kristen Pratt, a FosterMore staff member.
Glen Friedman Kristen Pratt
Why should employers be supportive of foster parents?
Glen Friedman: Employees want to work with employers with a positive, pro-social outlook. This is an opportunity for employers to play an active role in helping employees to change lives by welcoming foster children into their homes.
Kristen Pratt: As we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are re-engaging with their employers and organizations are re-evaluating their policies and benefits. Many companies are also strengthening their diversity, equity and inclusion [DE&I] programs. We believe that this should include employees who are fostering youth, as those needing foster homes are disproportionately Black and Latino.
Can you tell us about the history of this project and its current goals?
Pratt: FosterMore was founded 10 years ago to challenge perceptions about foster care and to improve outcomes for youth in need. The Foster Care Friendly Workplace initiative was launched in 2019 but was almost immediately put on hold due to the pandemic. It is now once again getting underway.
We estimate only about 1 percent of employees will use these benefits, asking for three weeks of fully paid time off or 66 2/3 salary for five weeks, so it's not a huge expense for employers. And yet the benefits for those children are immeasurable.
One of the biggest challenges is lack of awareness about the foster care crisis. Some businesses that offer adoption-friendly benefits don't offer foster care benefits.
There are similarities between both benefits but differences as well. Adoptions may happen after months of planning. When a child is placed in foster care, it's often very sudden, and employees may not be able to provide much notice that they'll need to take time off. Educating employers about this need and encouraging flexibility and understanding are top priorities.
Friedman: As the pandemic recedes, companies are now interested in offering innovative benefits to attract and keep employees and have a greater awareness of their social responsibilities around DE&I issues.
Companies that have officially signed on as foster-friendly workplaces currently employ about 40,000 workers, but the program is still in an early stage. We're talking with several large employers and hope to grow that number to organizations together employing over a million workers within the next year, with employers of all sizes.
'Foster parents are the kinds of workers that companies should want to hire and keep,'
What kind of employees become foster parents?
Pratt: It really runs the gamut, including workers in all kinds of roles within an organization. People who recognize that they can improve a child's life may be in a couple, and that includes same-sex couples, or singles. People at all stages of their lives can foster, including older empty nesters wanting to share what they've learned and people who haven't had kids of their own. There's no one model other than they want to make a difference in a youth's life.
Friedman: Employees who are motivated to be foster parents are the kinds of workers that companies should want to hire and keep. Those approved to be foster parents have been intensively screened by child welfare agencies, and they are the kind of caring and compassionate person a business would like to have as an employee.
What else can employers do to help with foster parenting?
Friedman: A major component is letting employees know if they foster, you're going to support them with the time they need to provide stable and supportive homes. Among other actions, companies also can encourage employees to volunteer with foster youth at different levels of commitment. FosterMore offers a "ladder of engagement" with various ways people can get involved. This can be anything from just learning more about foster care to donating to a scholarship fund to becoming a mentor.
Pratt: FosterMore is a coalition of different organizations, and we can connect a business with one of our partner organizations to provide training for prospective foster parents, including training focused on specialized needs, such as fostering LGBT+ youth.
Friedman: Informing employees that support is available for being foster parents is vitally important. We recommend discussing this commitment during employee orientation and incorporating it into benefits communication materials about family leave so it becomes part of the culture.
Making foster care part of a comprehensive family leave policy is to the advantage of both employers and employees. It's exciting to see the difference companies can help make in the lives of kids who are fostered and their eventual achievements as adults, benefiting society often in ways we can't even imagine.