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Foster Care FAQ's

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

New to the world of foster care? Here is a quick list of answers to the most frequently asked questions about foster care.

What is the goal of foster care?

One word: Reunification. The overarching goal of foster care is for children to be reunited with their family of origin whenever possible. In circumstances where reunification is no longer deemed possible, the goal is to establish permanency - whether that's through adoption or other arrangements.

foster family

What is RESPITE foster care?

Foster parents who offer respite care (short-term care) have the same licensure as those who offer long-term care. Respite families support long-term families by keeping their children for a defined period of time (a weekend or a week) when the long-term family needs it.

There are many reasons why a long-term foster family may need someone to watch their children. Some reasons include...

✨ death in the family

✨ work travel

✨ medical emergency

✨ needing to reconnect as a family

✨ just needing a break (as all parents do)

Depending on a child's case, it may be that the foster family isn't allowed to take the child with them out of state (even if they want to).

Respite foster parents have been referred to as "babysitters for children in foster care" - and while it's different than "babysitting," it serves a similar purpose.

Respite care is a great way to get involved if you aren't able to provide care for an indefinite amount of time, and/or you want to get familiar with the foster care system to see where you fit in!

Why do children enter foster care?

The two primary reasons are neglect (the most common) and / or abuse. If a concerned citizen or mandatory reporter suspects that a minor is being abused or neglected, they report that information to the state. The state decides whether or not it is in the child's best interest to enter foster care.

Some specific scenarios where a child may enter foster care could be:

- prenatal exposure to drugs

- parents in unsafe relationships / domestic violence

- being left alone or with an unsuitable caregiver

- medical needs aren't being addressed

- physical, emotional or sexual abuse

- parents are addicted to drugs or alcohol, are in prison or have passed away

There are an unlimited number of scenarios but the bottom line is that the state must determine that it would be unsafe for the child to remain in their current home before they are removed.

foster family

What is a mandatory reporter?

Per the NAMR (National Association of Mandated Reporters), mandated reporters are "people required by law to report suspected or known instances of abuse. In most states, mandated reporters are designated by their profession. But in some states, all adults are considered mandatory reporters... Mandated reporters have an individual duty to report known or suspected abuse or neglect relating to children, elders, or dependent adults."

Professionals in healthcare, education, legal matters and social assistance are often mandatory reporters - but anyone can submit a report.

If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call your state's hotline.

Can I foster if I work full time?

The short answer: Yes, you can!*

*The long answer: Yes, you can - but you will need support from your employer and some level of flexibility.

Children in foster care are, well, children - they get sick, their daycares are closed sometimes, they have appointments during the middle of the school day, etc. - so you'll either need the flexibility to get them "from here to there" yourself, or be able to arrange for someone else to get them "from here to there." You may need to take calls from caseworkers etc. during the day.

When I worked full time, my job was very inflexible and fostering would have been close to impossible. That's not the case for everyone!

If you're not sure if fostering while working full time is an option for you, consider respite care. Many respite placements are needed over weekends, so if you work a 9-5 job, weekend placements shouldn't interfere.

How long are respite placements typically?

Respite placements typically range from one weekend up to two weeks. In my experience most placements during the school year were just for a weekend, or maybe an extended weekend. In the summer, placements were sometimes a bit longer (such as a full week while a family goes on vacation).

You should know ahead of time the specific dates the child will be in your care. Once the agency connects you with the child(ren)'s foster parents, double check the dates with them as well. (I was once told by the agency that a placement was for 2 nights over a weekend, but the foster family was actually going to be gone 4 nights.) Thankfully we were still able to keep their kiddos but it doesn't hurt to double check, especially if you work full time!

Don't you get paid for being a foster parent?

As much as I dislike this question.. the answer is yes, technically. BUT:

In my experience, the stipend (which is "per day, per child," based on age and needs) does NOT cover what I spend for respite care specifically. I haven't done long-term care so I can't speak to that. As a respite foster parent, my goal is to help these kids be comfortable and give them lots of opportunities to have new experiences! I want to give off the “fun grandma” vibe… so that if their family needs respite again in the future, the kiddos are actually excited to come stay with me again. One trip to the zoo or a sporting event, and your "payment" for the whole weekend is used up. But guess what?

I. Don't. Care! 😀

And you shouldn't either - because "profiting" even one single penny off of a vulnerable child is just plain wrong. Can you tell I'm passionate about this? 😉

Would it be "nice" if stipends covered all that a foster parent spends? Sure! But would people decide they want to be foster parents to pocket the stipends and not meet a child's needs? Maybe. Somehow, this does happen even now. I'd rather have a low stipend and discourage people from wanting to take advantage of a broken situation.

When the system is working correctly, it should "weed out" people like this. As part of the licensing process, you have to list out your income, expenses, debt, etc. You give bank statements and pay stubs - and if the agency determines that you're not able to meet your own basic needs, you probably won't get licensed (as you shouldn't). My agency asks, every quarter, about changes in employment also.

Stipends vary by state, age, level of care, etc. Sometimes they change. But just plan on spending your own money. You would be surprised at the number of people who want to help you financially with foster care - so don't be afraid to share a wish list and make your wants/needs known!

How do gender and age preferences work?

When we first got licensed, we "preferred" either gender and children younger than one... I laugh now, because:

(1) We preferred "A" child... as in, only one - because we were brand new at this and wanted to "start slow." 75% of the calls (and the placements) we received were for sibling groups.

(2) We preferred "younger than 1" - and while I know why we made that decision at that time, I realize now how short-sighted we were! If we truly stuck to that age range, we would've only kept two kiddos in a 2.5 year span - because the needs were far greater for older ages.

In my experience, our agency called us for children who fit our preferences - but they also called us much more frequently for children outside of our age preference.


Because their job is to help families find respite care - regardless of age or gender. Our agency wasn't trying to push us to take a child (or children) we weren't prepared for - they were just giving us an opportunity to say "yes" if we were willing and able, because there aren't enough people in our area who offer respite care.

I think if there was a long list of respite care providers in any particular county, agencies would be able to stick to the preferences of each foster home when making calls. But when there aren't many options, they're living on a prayer and hoping that people are willing to stretch their preferences in order to accommodate the child(ren) in need.

Our agency never made us feel guilty if we had to say "no." They were simply giving us an opportunity to say "yes" by calling us anyway. And I'm so glad they did, because the children who fill my photo albums and who are pictured on my refrigerator were outside of our "preferences."

It's good to have preferences in mind - but be open-minded and flexible! If you truly want to help meet the needs of foster care, this is just one of many ways you can demonstrate flexibility.

Do I have to be married to foster?

No. Nope. Absolutely not. Marriage is not a prerequisite.

I sure do love my husband and he is an equal contributor when it comes to foster care. However, fostering does not require a spouse.

It DOES require a support system - that can be friends, family, neighbors, your church, etc. It doesn't have to be a spouse.

I do understand the point of view that children benefit from witnessing a godly, loving relationship between two people who respect and care for each other. This is totally valid and true. BUT, consider this:

⚪️ If you're single, you can still give children the opportunity to be around healthy married couples in your support system.

⚪️ There are children coming out of abusive situations who could experience healing by being in a home that does not include someone of the gender that abused them. I'm not saying that we should encourage the thought that all people of a certain gender are bad / to be avoided. I am saying that children need to have felt safety in order to heal, and they may feel safer in a single parent environment.

⚪️ Focus on what you CAN offer (which is a lot) ... love, support, advocacy, a safe home, new experiences.. the list goes on and on.

Please don't disqualify yourself; you have a unique contribution to make in foster care.

As I hear more questions, I will add to this post so check back in the future!

Emily | Respite Foster Mom


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