Care Communities - Hands of Hope
- Hands of Hope, Indiana
- Indiana Department of Child Services, Indiana
- Emerging Focus Area
Indiana is in a foster care crisis with the second-highest rate of child maltreatment in the nation and the highest number of children in the foster system compared to neighboring states. An estimated 153 million children worldwide are orphans. The numbers are overwhelming, but we believe that we can change the future one child at a time.
Children who have spent time in foster care are at high risk of poverty, teen pregnancy, arrest, and incarceration. These children also have worse academic outcomes and poorer health than non-foster care children, on average. Regardless of racial, economic, or neighborhood differences, foster care negatively impacts child welfare.
There is little research on how to improve social, educational, and economic outcomes for foster children, but one potential solution is to increase placement stability by supporting foster caregivers. Foster caregivers—experiencing burnout, lack of resources or support, and grief—often do not stay foster caregivers long-term. Nationally, between 30 to 50% of foster caregivers quit within their first year.
High foster parent turnover is associated with worse outcomes for children because of the lack of foster home placement stability. When placements change, foster children are moved into unfamiliar environments and forced to engage with a system that is associated with traumatic memories.
The care community model is intended to increase placement stability and decrease the level of foster caregiver turnover. This, in turn, is expected to improve outcomes for foster children while they are in foster care and afterward. Improvements in foster care stability are intended to generate subsequent benefits in foster care quality.
The model operates by providing compassionate, comprehensive support to foster families and the foster children in their care. A care community provider assigns a dedicated team of 6-8 individuals to each foster family. The team members support the foster caregiver through transportation, meals, tutoring for school age foster children, emergency care, and ongoing encouragement.
Foster families deserve the support to ensure stable placements. To improve the quality of foster placements, we need to better understand what supports matter most to foster caregivers. Because by helping foster caregivers, we can help foster children.
Hands of Hope is a faith-based organization focused on adoption, foster care, and children’s homes. Their goal is to connect children in the foster care system with needed resources, while also providing a loving community.
Hands of Hope organizes and trains care community teams through participating churches across Indiana. Since its launch within Indiana in 2018, Hands of Hope has served over 350 foster families through 25 different counties. The care communities aim to provide practical, emotional, and spiritual support to foster families.
Examples of support provided by care community teams include a weekly meal, childcare, tutoring for school aged children, assisting with transportation or housework, spiritual support, encouragement, and more.
Foster parents who receive services do not need to be members of participating churches. Services are allocated based on local availability. Hands of Hope connects foster parents with care community support teams through community outreach and connections with Department of Child Services county supervisors.
Through this program, Hands of Hope hopes to improve foster parent retention and the welfare of foster children.
What is the impact of community-based wraparound services for foster caregivers on the success of foster placements and the wellbeing of foster children?
Foster parents who receive the community of care support will remain foster parents and care for foster children for longer durations.
Foster children whose caregivers receive the community of care support will remain in foster care placements longer, experience less significant health events (emergency room visits and hospitalizations) during placements, demonstrate improved behavioral measures during placement, and achieve higher academic outcomes both during and following placement.
Research Study Design
The Hands of Hope project is a retrospective, quasi-experimental study using a difference-in-differences design. LEO researchers will use data from the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS)—which includes characteristics of foster children, placements, and caregivers—from 2010 to 2021.
Hands of Hope is currently the sole community-based provider in the state. Due to limited capacity, not every foster care family received wrap-around care community services between 2010 and 2021.
This creates a natural comparison group for the study. Foster families who received care community support become members of the treatment group, while foster families who did not receive community care are part of the control group.
LEO researchers will compare changes in outcomes within “treated” foster homes with the corresponding changes in outcomes among “control” foster homes.
In addition, the research team will partner with DCS to conduct voluntary interviews with foster families both with and without access to care community support. These interviews will provide qualitative measures of program mechanism and efficacy.