Foster Care Frequently Asked Questions

What is Foster Care?
Foster Care is a service provided to children who are brought into the custody of the Department of Social Services when their family or prior custodian is unable or unwilling to provide appropriate care for them. Foster parents provide substitute temporary care for the foster children; and they work as a team with the Department staff and with parents to plan for the children.

Why be a Foster Parent?
Foster parenting is probably one of the most difficult services one could ever imagine. It is not for everyone because the job is very draining and it requires a commitment of time love and energy. Foster parents must be able to share their family and lifestyle with children who are often very troubled. Additionally foster parents must share these children with their parents and the social worker who are working hard to ensure the child returns home as quickly as possible. The dissatisfactions and frustrations of foster parenting are many. However the satisfactions are great because you can watch children grow and develop losing their fears anger and frustrations and learning to love and trust. To watch the foster child evolve into a child with confidence and a good sense of self-esteem is one of the most rewarding jobs you could ever imagine!
 
Why do children enter Foster Care?
Children entering foster care usually do so because of multiple problems in their family and there are no other relatives or available resources to care for the children during the crisis. Possible problems that bring children into foster care include; mental or physical illness of the parent, child abuse and/or emotional abuse, physical neglect and desertion or abandonment.
 

How do children enter Foster Care?
Children enter foster care in one of two ways.  Entrustment, which is a voluntary agreement between the parent(s) and the Department of Social Services to provide foster care services until a (temporary) short-term problem (i.e. loss of housing etc.) can be remedied.  The second is Court Commitment, a legal decision to remove the child is made by a Judge of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. This may be with or without the parents' agreement.

What is a child like who enters Foster Care?
Foster children have the same needs as other children. However the difficulties within their families often cause unique problematic behaviors. Foster children are often confused about what is happening to them, fearful of new people and new surroundings and upset and grieving over the loss of parents, siblings and familiar surroundings.  The behaviors they exhibit  range in severity and may include bedwetting, disobedience, eating and sleep problems, difficulties in school, lying and stealing, depression, low self-esteem and aggression. No two foster children are the same, just as no two children are exactly alike. Therefore a good knowledge of normal and abnormal behavior is critical in understanding many of the behaviors exhibited by foster children.
 
How long will a child be in Foster Care?
Foster care is a temporary substitute placement and the Department works hard to ensure that reunification between the child and parent(s) occurs as soon as possible. The length of time for foster care varies from case to case from as little as a few days to as much as a year or longer. And in cases where return home is determined not possible alternative options of placement with relatives adoption or permanent foster care are considered.
 

What is a Foster Parent's role?
Foster parents are expected to provide daily care a stable family setting and supervision for the foster children. Foster parents are part of a team working with social workers the foster children and their families various mental health professionals attorneys for the children and often probation officers to ensure that appropriate services are provided to the foster children.

How do I become a Foster Parent?
Each month the Department of Social Services offers an orientation session for adults who are interested in learning more about being a foster parent. A representative of the Local Department of Social Services licenses all foster parents. In Prince William County the Foster Parent Coordinator who is responsible for training approvals and renewals of all foster parents does this. The following requirements must be met before approval is made:

  • PRIDE Training – a series of nine sessions designed to help you make a decision about becoming a foster parent and to begin to prepare you. These sessions cover topics of grief and loss normal and abnormal behavior the overall scope of the foster care program the foster child birth parents and what it means to be a foster parent. Experienced foster parents are involved in the training in order to provide prospective foster parents the opportunity to inquire about the realities of foster parenting. All adults in the home must attend training.
  • Home Assessment – The Foster Parent Coordinator who ensures that your home meets the standards established by the Virginia State Board of Social Services completes a Home Assessment – a thorough information-gathering process.
  • Child Protective Services Search, Criminal History Check (FBI National Fingerprinting), Complete Physical including Tuberculin Test – These are required for all adults in the home.
  • Two references – References from those unrelated to you are requested. The references provide a written opinion about your ability to be a foster parent.
  • Employment Verification
  • Ongoing Training – Continued training is required quarterly after a foster parent is licensed. Ongoing training is a support that helps foster parents with the difficult task of fostering.
A monthly room and board payment and yearly clothing allowance are provided for all foster children. Additionally, medical and dental expenses through the Virginia Medical Program are provided.
 

Are there different types of Foster Homes?
There are several types of foster homes including:

  • Regular Foster Homes: A foster home where parents have the routine skills to meet the child's needs.
  • Respite Home: A home that provides temporary care for children in the Department's custody. This care is meant as a respite/rest for foster parents whenever the foster children are at risk of foster placement disruption because of emotional or behavioral problems.
  • Safe Home: A regular foster home that provides critical short-term emergency care to all ages of children. The foster child is moved to a more permanent setting within one week.
  • Mentor Home: A living arrangement providing support guidance and nurture to foster children ages 16-21 who are in need of a more independent living status.
  • Specialized Foster Home: A home where the foster parents are highly skilled and trained to care for medically fragile children or those with multiple behavioral or emotional difficulties.

Can a single person be a Foster Parent?
Yes, however it is important that single foster parents have a strong support system from family friends and the community.

Can Foster Parents work outside the home?
Yes, although it may affect the age of children for which you can provide care. Day care services are sometimes available for foster children but the preference is to place children in homes where one parent is available at all times.

Does my age matter?
Foster parents must be at least 18 years old. Consideration will be made for one's personal maturity ability to problem-solve and physical health.

Can Foster Parents from other states be Foster Parents in Virginia?
Yes, however you must attend the Department training and have a home assessment because every state and locality has its own procedures and expectations.

What is the Department's goal for Foster Children?
Public Law 96-272 is a federal law requiring that foster children return home as quickly as possible or that an alternative permanent arrangement be made for the children when this cannot be accomplished. The Department works with the child parents foster parents and others to ensure that this law is upheld.