Why are children placed in foster care?
Children are placed in foster care either by order of a court (involuntary) or because their parents are willing to have them cared for temporarily outside the home (voluntary).
An involuntary placement occurs when a child has been abused or neglected (or may be at risk of abuse or neglect) by his or her parent or someone else in the household, or because a court has determined that the child is a “person in need of supervision” or a juvenile delinquent. The court orders the child removed from the home and determines the length of the placement.
A voluntary placement occurs when parents are temporarily unable to care for their child for reasons other than abuse or neglect. For example, the family is experiencing a serious medical, emotional, and/or financial problem. The parents sign a voluntary placement agreement that lists the responsibilities of the parents and the agency during the child’s placement. This is different than a voluntary surrender for adoption, whereby the parents voluntarily and permanently give up all parental rights and transfer “custody and guardianship” to an authorized agency.
As a foster parent, you are responsible for the temporary care and nurturing of a child who has been placed outside his or her own home. During a time of disruption and change, you are giving a child a home. At the same time, your role includes working with the caseworker and the child’s family so that the child can return home safely, when appropriate.
The role of the foster parent is to:
- Provide temporary care for children, giving them a safe, stable, nurturing environment.
- Cooperate with the caseworker and the child’s parents in carrying out a permanency plan, including participating in that plan.
- Understand the need for, and goals of, family visits and help out with those visits.
- Help the child cope with the separation from his or her home.
- Provide guidance, discipline, a good example, and as many positive experiences as possible.
- Encourage and supervise school attendance, participate in teacher conferences, and keep the child’s caseworker informed about any special educational needs.
- Work with the agency in arranging for the child’s regular and/or special medical and dental care.
- Work with the child on creating a Life Book – a combination of a story, diary, and scrapbook that can help children understand their past experiences so they can feel better about themselves and be better prepared for the future.
- Inform the caseworker promptly about any problems or concerns so that needs can be met through available services.
As a foster parent, you are a continuing presence in the child’s life. You are familiar with the child’s personality and emotional and intellectual development since you care for him or her 24 hours a day.
Therefore, you can contribute valuable information about the child as you work closely with the caseworker/agency, participate in meetings about the child, and communicate with the parents. Foster parents are often the main source of information about how a child is adjusting to the separation from home, interacting with other children, and performing in school.
Even more important, you are a primary source of support for the child. When you have a positive, healthy relationship with your foster children, you help build their trust in adults. This helps prepare them for changes in their living situation that might be necessary to achieve their permanency goal. For example, they may return home or they may be adopted. As you continue to nurture the child day after day, you are helping to plan for his or her permanency.
Foster parents can help plan for permanency through parent-child visits, contacts with the caseworker, service plan reviews, court hearings and discharge activities. For more information on these topics, please contact your local department of social services.
Foster parents have the right to:
- Accept or reject a child for placement in a foster home.
- Define and limit the number of children that can be placed in the foster home, within legal capacity.
- Receive information on each child who is to be placed in the foster home.
- Expect regular visits from the child’s caseworker to exchange information, plan together, and discuss any concerns about the child.
- Participate in regular conferences in the foster home to discuss the child’s plan every 90 days or less as required (whenever necessary in times of crisis or emergency).
- Receive notice of, and participate in Service Plan Reviews and Family Court permanency hearings on a child placed in their home.
- Receive training on meeting the needs of children in care.
- Have their personal privacy respected.
As a foster parent, you are part of a “team” working together for the sake of the family. Generally, the team consists of the foster parents, the birth parents, the child, the caseworker, and the law guardian. (In some cases, the birth parents may not be invited participants.) It may also include service providers, health care providers, and other family members. This means that you are not alone in caring for the child. You have support. It also means that you meet with the child's family in visits and case conferences, and you keep the caseworker up-to-date on how the child is doing.
Working as a team member makes sense. If you don’t meet the child’s parents, you may have an unrealistic picture of them in your mind. They may become jealous of you if they don’t get to know you. All of this might have a negative effect on the child. Children will feel better about themselves if they know that their parents and foster parents are talking to one another and trying to help them get back home.