Thank you for caring about kids in foster care.
Fostering and/or adopting through foster care can be one of the most meaningful things you can do.
Virtually every county in the U.S. is experiencing 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.
Is there a need for more foster parents?
Currently, there are over 400,000 kids in foster care. (More than 100,000 are waiting for permanent adoptive families.) There is a perpetual gap between the number of kids in foster care and the number of foster parents. One of our goals at America’s Kids Belong is to recruit and retain foster parents at a much higher rate so that we can literally change who waits so that there are multiple potential foster parents for each child.
Who are the children in foster care?
U.S. foster care includes children from infant to 18 or 21), spanning every race, ethnic group and socio-economic category. The average age of a child in foster care is about 8.5 years old.
Are babies in foster care?
Nationally, 7 percent of youth in foster care are babies.
How long do children stay in foster care?
Just under half of kids spend less than a year in foster care. Nearly 40 percent of kids spend one to three years in the foster-care system. Length of stay varies according to the circumstances of both the kids and families.
What challenges do children face in foster care?
Kids in foster care often are moved from one temporary setting to another. Frequent moves make it difficult for kids to concentrate on school, maintain friendships and family relationships, or begin the healing journey from the trauma that led to them being placed in foster care. Many times when foster families cannot be found, kids will be placed in group facilities or residential treatment centers. Research shows that living long term in group homes deprives kids of the opportunity to experience the stability, support and love of a family, where they can develop practical life skills, learn to build trusted bonds with parents and other family members, and have a support network of trusted adults who will care for them now and in the future.
Do kids in foster care see their biological parents while in foster care?
Most of the time kids in foster care will visit their biological parents once or twice a week, as part of a court-ordered plan to work toward family reunification. The location and schedule of visits is coordinated among the biological parents, the court and the child’s case manager.
Do foster parents meet with biological parents?
Foster parents do not have to meet with the biological parents, but it is in the best interest of the child for foster parents to cooperate with and support the biological parents’ visitation schedule and reunification plan.
What are parents typically doing while their children are in care?
While their child or children are in foster care bio parents typically 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 may include addiction treatment and/or rehabilitation.
How does reunification work?
Typically, reunification begins with supervised visits (once or twice a week for an hour or so), between kids and their bio parents. As parents progress toward the goals of their court-defined treatment plans, the reunification process progresses to include unsupervised visits, overnight visits and weekend visits. Once kids return home, bio parents work with a social worker who provides in-home services and additional support to help the parents and kids 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 a 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 can either be extended family members (called kinship placements) or non-related adults who step up to care for kids who enter the foster-care system. Foster parents’ role is to provide kids with care and as much normalcy as possible, while also helping prepare them for a return to birth parents or other permanent placement (adoption). Foster parents are licensed by the state or a contracted private agency as trained caregivers.
Who is eligible to be a foster parent?
Specific requirements are set by states (and in some cases counties), but typically the requirements to foster are fairly straightforward. Foster parents must be at least 21 years old, pass a background check, complete training and complete a home study. You can own or rent a home, condo, or apartment, as long as you have a room for a child. And, you must have sufficient income to support your family.
There are no restrictions based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, marital status or sexual orientation. Foster parents can be single, married, or have a domestic partner. You can work inside or outside the home.
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 foster parents work outside the home, and this is normally not a problem. Foster parents may be given a referral for childcare services and the costs are often covered by child welfare.
What would disqualify someone from being a foster parent?
Applicants will be denied if they have a history of felony child abuse or neglect, spousal abuse or crimes against children. If an applicant has been convicted of felony assault, battery, or a drug-related offense in the last five years, that also will disqualify him or her from fostering.
How long does it take to be licensed?
The process to become licensed typically takes three to six months. This includes the time to complete an application, take part in certification training, process a background check and complete a home study.
What is a home study?
A home study (also known as a family assessment) is a process conducted by a caseworker to help prepare you and confirm that you meet the requirements to foster. The home study begins with an interview by the caseworker to get to know you and your family at your home. It often includes a home-safety inspection. The final deliverable is a written report that makes recommendations about the characteristics and number of children you are able to support in your care. Home studies vary from state-to-state and agency-to-agency.
Do I have a choice about the number and timing of kids placed with me?
Foster parents can specify when they’re available to foster, how many kids they are able to accept (based on the parameters specified in the home study) and their preferences on age or gender, as well as any behavioral or medical issues they don’t feel equipped to manage. When you are contacted about a potential placement, you have the right to ask about the child’s known needs and behaviors, and to accept or deny 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 goal is to place kids with a family best-equipped to meet their needs and avoid having to relocate them. Placements occur more quickly if you are open to parenting sibling groups and older kids.
What determines where a child lives?
Ideally, placements are made with foster families based upon compatibility between the child’s needs and the skills, resources and location of the foster parent(s) Human services agencies strive to find a foster home accessible to the biological parent’s home, to facilitate visits and involvement, and when possible in proximity to the child’s school and/or 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. Foster parents are equipped to give non-physical consequences 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 food, shelter, clothing and related expenses. Rates vary based on the child’s age and the level of care required. Foster parent reimbursements are not considered taxable income.
Who is responsible for medical, vision, or dental care for a child in my care?
Foster parents are not expected to pay for medical or dental care. These expenses are typically covered by Medicaid.
Can we take a foster child with us on vacation?
Foster families are encouraged to make the foster child a part of regular family activities, and vacations are considered to be an enriching experience. When a foster child is taken out of state, however, the foster family must first get written, prior authorization by the authorized child welfare agency.
Is it okay if we have pets?
Pets usually are allowed and are considered to enhance the experience for the youth in foster care.
What if I’m not quite ready to foster ? What can I do to help now?
Foster and adoptive families need lots of support. You can offer respite care, babysitting, meals, transportation, etc. You can get your business to provide discounts, or you can get your faith community involved in supporting families. (See the Foster Friendly Communities section on this site.) You also can become an advocate for children in foster care, like a CASA, a Court Appointed Special Advocate. CASA volunteers are sworn officers of the court, appointed by a juvenile-court judge to advocate for kids in foster care as a result of abuse or neglect.
Complete an interest form to learn more about how you can get involved.
Foster Care Adoption
There are three types of adoption available in the U.S.: 1) Adoption from the foster care system. 2) international adoption, 3) private, domestic adoption. This section focuses on adoption from foster care.
Who can adopt a child from foster care?
Most states require that you be a foster parent in order to be eligible to adopt a child in foster care. The qualifications to adopt are similar to those required to foster. 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 just need to demonstrate that you can support yourself and the child you hope to adopt without supplemental income, such as adoption assistance.
What qualities are important for parents who adopt?
Adopting a child requires the same qualities that help make any parent successful. Being an adoptive parent also requires an understanding of the challenges kids in foster care have faced and how to help heal their trauma. Kids in foster care don’t need perfect parents, just loving individuals willing to meet their unique challenges and make a lifetime commitment to nurturing and supporting them. Traits like flexibility, patience, good problem-solving skills, and a willingness to identify local community resources are valuable. A good sense of humor helps too!
Can the birth family take the child away from me after adoption?
Adoptions of children from U.S. 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.
Why consider adopting 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 every year. These teens need support, guidance and family now and for the rest of their lives.
Are siblings always adopted together?
Even when siblings have been separated in foster care, the goal is to find a safe, permanent home where they can grow up together.
Can I adopt a child from another state?
While additional requirements can slow the process for interstate adoption, 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 are often reimbursable.
Is there financial assistance to help meet children’s needs after they are adopted?
In many cases, medical assistance programs help finance an adopted child’s medical and mental health needs even following adoption. Kids adopted out of foster care may also be eligible for educational benefits, college-tuition assistance and other support that varies by state.
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 complex than adopting a child who does not have tribal citizenship or affiliation.
How do I find kids who need an adoptive family?
One of the core focus areas for America’s Kids Belong is to help kids who are legally free for adoption to find forever families. Go to Meet the Kids to view our gallery of amazing young people. You can search by state, gender, age and sibling groups.
What Other Questions Do You Have?
We’d love to be a resource to you as you explore foster care and adoption. Share your questions and we’ll do our best to answer them via email, or perhaps in an upcoming blog post or foster parent panel.