Frequently Asked Questions
About Foster Care and Adoption
Thank you for being the kind of person who cares about kids! Fostering and/or adopting (through foster care) can be one of the most meaningful things you do. In virtually every county in the U.S., there is a great need for more and better foster and adoptive families. We know you have many questions when starting this journey. These frequently asked questions and answers are a good place to start.
What is foster care?
Foster care is family-based care – at least that is the ideal. It is the temporary placement of children and youth outside of their own homes in order to protect them. Foster care gives parents time to learn skills to become the parents their children need them to be.
Why are kids in foster care?
Kids are in foster care because their families are going through a crisis. They have been removed from their parents because they are unsafe, abused, neglected, or their parents are unable to care for them.
What is the goal of foster care?
The primary purpose of foster care is to provide a safe and stable place for kids who cannot be with their parents. The first goal of foster care is to safely reunite kids with their families. If that can’t happen, the next goal is to ensure that children live in stable, lifelong, adoptive families, since secure attachment to at least one parenting adult is crucial to healthy child development and well-being. In all cases, our homes should be safe and a place for physical, emotional, and mental healing to begin.
How great is the need for foster parents?
Currently, there are over 420,000 kids in foster care. (Over 100,000 are waiting for adoptive families.) There is a never-ending need for caring foster parents who can provide safe, nurturing homes for children.
Who are the children in foster care?
U.S. foster care includes children of every age (infant to 18 or 21), race, ethnic group, and socio-economic category. The average age of a child in foster care is about 8.5 years old.
Are there babies in foster care?
Nationally, 7% of youth in foster care are babies.
How long do children stay in foster care?
A child or youth may be in foster care for several days, months, or years. Just under half of kids spend less than a year in foster care. Nearly 40% of foster kids spend one to three years. Lengths of stay vary according to the circumstances of children and families.
What challenges do children face in foster care?
Too often, children in foster care move from one home to another. Frequent moves make it hard for children to concentrate on school, build friendships and family relationships, heal from abuse, neglect and trauma, and feel secure and loved. Additionally, many kids live in group facilities or residential treatment centers. Research shows that living long term in group homes means children don’t have a chance to experience regular family life, develop practical skills and build bonds with parents who will care for them, both now and later.
Do kids in foster care see their biological parents while in foster care?
Most children in foster care visit their biological parents on a regular basis – typically once or twice a week, as part of the court-ordered plan to reunite the family. The location and schedule of visits are arranged between the biological parents, the court, and the assigned case manager.
Do foster parents meet with the biological parents?
Foster parents do not have to meet with the child’s parents, but it is in the best interest of the child for the foster parents to cooperate with the biological parents’ visitation schedule and reunification plans.
What are parents typically doing while their children are in care?
Most are working on an individual treatment plan that will allow them to reunify with their children. For example, if the underlying issue is substance abuse, a parent’s plan could include treatment or rehabilitation.
How does reunification work?
Typically, it starts with the kids having supervised visits (once or twice a week for an hour or so), with their parents. As parents progress toward their assigned goals, the reunification process begins with unsupervised visits, overnight visits, and weekend visits. Once the children return home, parents work with a social worker who provides in-home services and additional support to help the parents and children make a smooth transition.
How common is it for kids to be reunified with their families?
Nationwide, more than half of youth who enter foster care are safely reunified.
What if reunification with the biological family isn’t possible?
If the child cannot be safely reunited within a certain period of time (usually 12 to 18 months), the law requires that another permanent (adoptive) family be found for the child. The foster family is usually prioritized to adopt.
What is a foster parent and what do they do?
Foster parents are relatives (called kinship placements) or nonrelative adults who step up to care for children who have experienced abuse or neglect or whose parents are unable to care for them. They provide children as much caring and normalcy as possible, while also helping prepare children for a permanent placement, either through a return to birth parents or adoption. Foster parents are licensed by the state or a contracted private agency and are trained caregivers.
Who can foster?
There are no restrictions on who can foster based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or marital status. Foster parents must be at least 21 years old (in most states), pass a background check, complete training, and receive a home study. You can be single, married, or have a domestic partner. You can own or rent a home, condo, or apartment, as long as you have a room for a child. You can work inside or outside the home. You must have sufficient income to support your family. Foster parents must be able to use sound judgment like a prudent parent and demonstrate a responsible, stable, and emotionally mature lifestyle.
What if the foster parents work outside the home?
Many good foster parents work outside the home, and this is normally not a problem. Foster parents MAY be given a referral for childcare services – with the costs being covered by child welfare.
What would disqualify someone from being a foster parent?
Foster care applicants will be denied if they have a history of felony child abuse or neglect, spousal abuse, or crimes against children. If any applicant has been convicted of felony assault, battery, or a drug-related offense in the last five years, they will be disqualified from foster care.
How long does it take to be licensed?
It varies from state to state, but the process to become licensed typically takes about three to six months to complete an application, certification training, background checks, and a home study.
What is a home study?
A home study (also known as a family assessment) is a process that results in a document about you, your family, and your strengths, characteristics, and challenges. A home study begins with an interview with a caseworker of you and your family at your home. It can include a home safety inspection. The study is not standardized and may vary from state-to-state and agency-to-agency. After getting to know your family, your caseworker will make recommendations about the characteristics and number of children who would succeed in your home.
Do I have any choice about the types of kids placed with me?
Yes. Foster parents can specify their preferences as to the ages or genders of the foster children placed in their homes, as well as any behavioral or medical issues they don’t feel equipped to manage. When contacted about a possible placement, you have the right to ask about the child’s known needs and behaviors and accept or refuse placement based on that information.
Once licensed, how long will it be before children are placed in my home?
It may happen immediately, or it may take some time. Understandably, foster parents may be eager for a child to be placed quickly. The priority, though, is that the child is placed in the best family for that child. The hope is this will prevent moving the child to a different foster home. In addition, placements can occur more quickly if you can parent siblings or older kids. Our hope is we have more than enough families waiting to foster the children.
How is it determined where a child lives?
Ideally, placements are made with foster families based upon the compatibility of the child’s needs and the skills, resources, and location of the foster parent. Human services agencies strive to find a foster home near the child’s parent’s home to encourage visits and involvement. They also look for a foster family who lives near the child’s school or in the same school district.
Can foster parents discipline the foster child?
Yes, but they can’t spank them because many of the kids have experienced trauma, and physical discipline can feel like abuse. Instead, foster parents are equipped to give non-physical and positive discipline. The approach to disciplining (teaching) children can include talking with the child about the situation, positive reinforcement, giving choices, guiding the child to solve his or her own problem, diversion, separation from the problem situation, and withholding of privileges.
Are foster parents paid to care for children and youth placed in their homes?
Foster parents receive a monthly stipend to offset the costs of providing food, shelter, clothing, and other related expenses. The rate varies depending on the age of the child and their level of care they need. Foster parent reimbursements are not considered taxable income.
Who pays for medical, vision, or dental care?
Foster parents are not expected to pay for medical or dental care. These expenses are generally covered by Medicaid.
Can we take a foster child with us on vacation?
Usually. Foster families are encouraged to make the foster child a part of regular family activities, and vacations are an enriching experience for the children. When a foster child is taken out of the state, however, the foster family must first get a written travel authorization form signed by the authorized child welfare agency.
Is it okay if we have pets?
Typically, yes. Pets usually enhance the experience for the youth in foster care.
What if I’m not quite ready to foster yet? What else can I do to help now?
There are lots of things you can do to help! Foster and adoptive families need lots of support. You can provide respite care, babysitting, meals, transportation help, etc. You can get your business to provide discounts, or you can get your faith community involved in supporting families. You could also become an advocate for children in foster care, like a CASA. This is a Court Appointed Special Advocates volunteer. CASA volunteers are sworn officers of the court-appointed by a juvenile court judge to advocate for children who are living in foster care as a result of abuse or neglect. Everyone can do something.
What are the different types of adoption?
There are three types of adoption: 1) Adoption from the foster care system. 2) International adoption. 3) Private adoption. All of them involve home studies, background checks, paperwork, long waits and there is no guarantee of being matched with a child. This section is about number 1 – adopting from foster care.
Who can adopt a child from foster care?
In most states, you must be a foster parent. Basically, the same qualifications apply to being an adoptive parent as to being a foster parent. You can be single, married, or have a domestic partner. You can own or rent a home, condo, or apartment. You can work inside or outside the home. You must have sufficient income to support your family.
Are there income or education requirements?
You don’t need to be wealthy or have a college degree to adopt. However, you do need to demonstrate that you can support yourself without any additional income, such as adoption assistance.
What qualities are important for parents who adopt?
Qualities of successful adoptive parents are similar to all parents. Traits like flexibility, patience, good problem-solving skills, and a willingness to identify local community resources are all critical. A good sense of humor helps too! Critical to being a successful adoptive parent is understanding the challenges these children have faced and how to help heal their trauma. Children don’t need perfect parents, just loving individuals willing to meet the unique challenges of parenting and make a lifetime commitment to caring for and nurturing them.
Can the birth family take the child away from me after adoption?
Adoptions of children from US foster care are legally binding agreements that do not occur until the rights of all parents have been legally terminated by a court of law. Once the adoption is approved by the court, the child is permanently a part of their new family.
Is it possible to adopt a Native American child if I am not Native American?
While it is possible, adopting Native American children can be more involved than adopting a child who does not have tribal citizenship or affiliation.
Why would I want to adopt an older child?
Imagine being a teenager grappling with the transition into adolescence and independence all alone. That is the situation facing thousands of young people who risk aging out of foster care alone every year. These teens need support, guidance, and family now and for the rest of their lives.
Are siblings always adopted together?
In an ideal world, the answer would be yes. Even when siblings have been separated in foster care, the goal is to find them a safe, permanent home where they can grow up together.
Can I adopt a child from another state?
Yes. While there are additional requirements that can slow the adoption process, families do successfully adopt children from other states every day.
How much does it cost to adopt from foster care?
Adoption from foster care has little to no cost. The minimal costs that can be associated with them are often reimbursable.
Is there financial assistance to help meet children’s needs after they are adopted?
In many cases, there are medical assistance programs to help finance an adopted child’s medical and mental health needs. There may also be educational benefits, college tuition assistance, and other assistance.
Where can I see kids who need adoptive families?