What Is Foster Care? How Does It Work in United States?

By Babygest Staff
Last Update: 10/07/2019

Foster care, like adoption, is a child protection measure in which the best interests of the child are the main objective.

Foster care aims to promote the development of a child within a family. However, it must be clear that fostering a child in no way implies the rupture of the child's links with his or her biological family.

Foster care is meant to be a temporary service until the family and, in some cases, the child, can resolve the problems that made the placement necessary. But when parents cannot, or do not want to make their homes safer for the child's return, it is necessary to find other permanent options.

Who can foster?

Foster care is a protective measure aimed at supporting the child and his or her biological family so that a family reintegration can take place.

Therefore, foster families must have sufficient capacities to provide a stable environment for the child to be able to do so.

In general, any type of family can foster a child, whether biparental families, a single female or single male, regardless of gender or marital status.

Every state has its own requirements, so from the beginning, the best thing to do is to look for your state regulations.

Their commitment to the minor must be focused on caring for him/her, educating him/her, feeding him/her, accompanying him/her, etc. Ultimately, the foster child should feel like another member of the family.

Type of out-of-home care

There are two types of out-of-home or foster care, depending on the links between the foster child and the foster family:

Kinship Care
they are members of the child's own family. For example, uncles, grandparents, etc.
Foster care
there is no family link or bond between the child and the foster carers.

Children's characteristics

Minors who are at risk or helpless, whose parents' parental rights may even be temporarily suspended, are eligible for care.

These minors may have experienced traumatic or very painful personal situations, such as abandonment, mistreatment, sexual abuse, etc., so it is common to encounter behavioral difficulties such as the following:

  • Deficit in their affective development
  • Difficulty with social relationships
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Attachment problems
  • Behavior disorders

In addition, children over 7 years of age or those in the midst of adolescence may be more difficult to integrate and adapt to the foster family.

Different type of Foster Care

Depending on the type of foster care, these are the following modalities:

Respite care
All parents need a break. Respite care providers act to give foster parents the time they need - between a few hours and a weekend or more - usually in a planned setting.
Emergency or urgent care
foster parents agree to be on call and accept short-term placements as needed, including evenings and weekends.
Kinship care
Grandparents, uncles and aunts, as well as other family members who agree to care for children, are called “kinship” caregivers. Kinship care may be an informal or legal arrangement.
Therapeutic or treatment foster care
Children and youth who require more extensive social, behavioral and mental health care and who receive more specialized services are supported by therapeutic foster parents. These caregivers receive additional special training and support to be part of the care team that meets the needs of children in their homes.
Foster-to-adopt care
it refers to families foster with the intention of adopting. A number of sates encourage this practice. Indeed, it has many advantages, including reducing the number of placements a child experiences and allowing a family to bond. It is sometimes called as dual licensing.

Steps to Foster Care

Foster care is provided by private and public agencies. In order to begin the process, it is possible to find contact in your Department of Human Services or Department of Children and Family Services or on The Child Welfare Information Gateway. Once you have the contact, these are the steps:

Make the call
the agency will request personal information such as your name, address and telephone number to send you information about the agency and the licensing or certification process. You may also be asked about your motivations and needs for foster care.
Initial meeting
the goal of this first meeting is to informe about the role and responsibilities of foster parents. At the end, the licensing worker usually gives an application and forms to complete.
Licensing Process
to define if your family is ready for foster care and to know which children would fit with your family.
Home study
it involves collecting information about each member of your family and formally assessing your ability to care for your children.
The agency requires you to give three or more references. These are people who know you and can help the agency evaluate your abilities and interests.
Background checks
it is a formal review of the criminal and child protection history. Both fingerprints and authorization are used to check for local, state and FBI databases.
Home safety checks
to assure that your house or apartment is safe for a children.
Orientation and pre-service training
Usually, most states require 10 to 30 hours of training before you can get a license or have a child placed with your family.
it consists of a written report by the licensed worker with recommendations. This worker also submits the appropriate forms to the licensing agency in order to issue the license.

End of Foster Care

The main reasons for ending foster care are as follows:

  • Reintegration of the minor into his/her family;
  • Reaching legal age;
  • Adoption of the minor: when the adoption is constituted by judicial decision;
  • Voluntary guardianship of the foster parents;
  • A judge or the Public Entity may end the foster care, in the best interest of the minor.

FAQs from users

By Natalia Álvarez (project manager).

The difference is that in adoption, the parent's legal status as parent is totally terminated while Kinship Legal Guardianship does not terminate parental rights.

What are the objectives of the foster care?

By Zaira Salvador (embryologist).

This is a fundamental protection measure for children who are separated from their parents for different reasons. Foster care gives these children the opportunity to have the support and affection of a family. The main objectives are as follows:

  • Provide the child with a safe, rules-based and emotionally stable environment in which to develop attachment
  • To allow the full and harmonious development of the minor in a climate of acceptance, protection and affection, without losing the relationship and bond with his or her biological family
  • Maintain and improve the child's relationship with his or her parents and/or biological family, unless they can be harmful.
  • Provide the child with a reference and imitation model. In this way, he will be able to know an appropriate family model for when he decides to create his own family in the future.
  • Avoid the institutionalization of minors by offering an alternative to residential centres.

In any case, the final objective of foster care is the return of the minor to his or her home once the family's difficulties have been overcome.

Suggested for you

Foster care is a child protection measure. However, those who cannot have children naturally or with assisted reproduction treatments are more inclined to adopt a minor than to foster. If you want to read more about this, you can continue reading here: Adopting a Child in United States: – How it Works?

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Definition of different types of foster care by adoptuskid.org: [here]

The different steps by NFPA (National Foster Parent Association): [here]

Definition of foster care by TN Department of Children’s Services (Tenessee): [here]

Statistics about foster care by Heath & Human Services: here

FAQs from users: 'What is the difference between kinship legal guardian and adoption?' and 'What are the objectives of the foster care?'.

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