Understanding the needs of foster parents of youth with special health care needs: Perceptions, barriers, and recommendations

Spencer St. Jean*, Ashley Murphy, Kendra Wright, Clara Law, Heather J. Risser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Youth with special health care needs (SHCN) experience more placement disruptions in foster care than their typically developing peers. This study, conducted by a research-community partnership, used a mixed-methods approach to understand the needs and barriers of current, past, and prospective foster parents to provide care for youth with SHCN. Methods: One hundred twenty-six participants completed a survey regarding their youth's care needs, anticipated and experienced barriers of concern when caring for youth with SHCN, support they believe should be provided at the beginning of placements, and information they believe would be helpful to know when deciding to foster a youth with SHCN. Results: Current and past foster parents of youth with SHCN most commonly reported caring for youth with behavioral issues, developmental disabilities, and medical conditions requiring frequent monitoring and intervention. The biggest barriers reported by current and past foster parents were SHCN-specific training, transparency regarding youths’ needs, and assistance finding providers. In contrast, prospective foster parents reported not receiving enough information about youths’ specific needs and getting physical home modifications as the biggest anticipated barriers. Prospective foster parents reported they would like to receive clear information on youth's needs, care goals, and medical history to guide their decision to foster youth with SHCN. Discussion: The findings from this study highlight that current, past, and prospective foster parents of youth with SHCN feel a critical need exists for additional capacity-building and resources for foster parents to be able to successfully care for youth with SHCN. Furthermore, prospective foster parents require tailored guidance and training to ensure they are fully prepared for the practical considerations to care for a youth with SHCN. Conclusions: Foster parents who care for youth with SHCN require additional support to manage the complex medical and behavioral needs of the youth in their care, transparency on youth's medical history and care needs, and clarity on resources and services available. By identif ying opportunities to better support, recruit, and prepare foster parents caring for youth with SHCN, the child welfare system can reduce gaps in wellbeing, promote placement stability, and improve outcomes for children and youth with SHCN.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107431
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • Child welfare services
  • Community-engaged
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Foster parent needs
  • Needs assessment
  • Special health care needs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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