Frequently Asked Questions
Becoming a Foster/Adoptive Parent
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About NC’s Foster Care System
In North Carolina we take a team approach to ensure the safety, permanence, and well-being for children in foster care. At a minimum, this team consists of the following members.
1. The Licensing Authority for family foster homes and therapeutic foster homes is the North Carolina Division of Social Services, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Licensing Authority receives applications for foster care licenses and other licensing materials from public and private child-placing agencies (also referred to as “Supervising Agencies”). It reviews and approves or denies these applications and materials based on North Carolina’s standards, policies, and procedures for licensing. The Licensing Authority communicates with Supervising Agencies if the licensing materials they submit require additional information, clarification, or materials so that the Licensing Authority can make a licensing decision.
2. Supervising Agencies are the public and private agencies responsible for recruiting, training, and supporting North Carolina’s family foster care parents and therapeutic foster care parents. Supervising Agencies submit to the Licensing Authority requests for initial licensure, relicensure, changes, terminations, and revocations. However, it is the role of the Licensing Authority to approve or deny these requests. It is also important to understand that Supervising Agencies do not have the authority to revoke licenses. Only the Licensing Authority can do that. For a listing of public Supervising Agencies, go to https://www2.ncdhhs.gov/dss/local/. For a listing of private Supervising Agencies, go to https://www2.ncdhhs.gov/dss/licensing/listings.htm and click on the link for “Foster Care Agencies.”
3. County Child Welfare Agencies are the temporary custodians of children and youth in foster care. As such, they are charged with ensuring the safety, well-being, and permanence of these young people.
4. Foster parents play a critical role by providing the day-to-day care for children in foster care. Without their involvement, child welfare agencies would not be able to ensure the safety, permanence, and well-being of children and families. There are two types of foster parents in North Carolina: those that provide family foster care and those that provide therapeutic foster care (sometimes called “treatment” foster care). Both types are licensed for a period of two years, after which they must renew their licenses to continue fostering. Both require knowledgeable, loving people willing to devote a portion of their lives to helping children and their families.
5. Birth Families. Maintaining contact and healthy relationships with their birth parents and other family members (siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc.) is important for young people in foster care. Preparing foster parents to work with birth parents through shared parenting and educating foster parents about the issues birth families often struggle with are key tasks for licensing professionals. (For more on shared parenting, see the videos on this subject found here.) If they perform these tasks effectively, foster parents are more likely to continue fostering, children will have more stable placements, and there will be a better overall chance for improved outcomes for children and their families.
6. Children. Although their presence in foster care is caused by the actions of adults, children exert tremendous influence on the lives of foster parents and the social workers who license them. Children with challenging behaviors or intense needs can strain caregivers who are not adequately prepared. By carefully selecting, training, matching, and supporting foster parents and children, licensing workers help make sure everyone in the foster home is safe and well.
North Carolina foster parents most often interact with two different types of child welfare professionals:
(1) Licensing workers. These individuals are responsible for recruiting, training, and supporting foster parents. As the name suggests, their duties also include helping foster parents get and stay licensed.
(2) Foster care workers. These individuals are responsible for monitoring the well-being of children in foster care; in many cases they are also working with the children’s parents so that the children can safely return home.
The number and type of social workers North Carolina foster parents interact with also depends on whether they are supervised by a county DSS or by a private agency. Those supervised by a DSS interact primarily or only with DSS social workers. Those supervised by private agencies will see social workers from both their supervising agency and from the DSS.
Child and family team meetings (CFTs) are a key part of the child welfare system in North Carolina, and something all foster parents hear about as part of their pre-service training. CFTs are meetings where the county department of social services (DSS) brings birth family members and their community supports together to create, implement, and update a plan with the child, youth, and family. CFTs are structured discussions that seek to ensure child safety and build on the strengths of the child, youth, and family and address their needs, desires, and dreams. If you are a licensed foster parent, the best way to learn more about CFTs is to ask your licensing social worker. Your supervising agency has a vested interest in your understanding the value of these meetings and how you can contribute to them. That said, the following are also great sources of insight into CFTs and the benefits they bring:
All foster parents and pre-adoptive parents or relative caregivers in the U.S. have the right to be notified of any court proceedings with respect to the children in their care, and the right to be heard in those proceedings. This law does not make foster parents a “party” in court, nor does it give them “standing” in court, but it does mandate that if they choose, their voice and their vital knowledge of the child will now be heard by the judge. See the articles below for more on this important topic:
Being investigated by child protective services (CPS) is a real possibility for every resource parent. According to the NC Division of Social Services (2012) foster parents are more than twice as likely as others to be the subject of a CPS investigative assessment. Most of these assessments do not result in a finding of abuse or neglect. Indeed, allegations of abuse and neglect by foster parents are found to be unsubstantiated (that is, untrue) at least as often as are allegations against other parents and caretakers. All the same, the Division of Social Services encourages resource parents to know how a CPS assessment works and how to navigate it. For a helpful article on this topic, please see “CPS: Implications for Foster Parents” from Fostering Perspectives.
To care properly for a child placed in their home, foster parents or relatives need to know as much information as possible regarding the reason for the child’s placement and the needs of the child. Foster parents always have a right to receive the following from county DSS agencies:
- Placement information. Information about why the child is in foster care and what the primary and concurrent permanency plans are must be provided to foster parents at the time of placement and updated as needed to help the foster parent anticipate and respond to the child’s needs. Providing this information also helps the foster parent to be an informed partner in the planning process.
- Social/behavioral information must be shared with the foster parent/caregiver at the time of placement, including information about the kinds of behaviors the caregiver is likely to encounter and the parental responses that seem to be the most helpful to the child. The child’s strengths and abilities should be shared along with any needs. Once this information has been passed along, foster parents and caregivers are responsible for keeping social workers and other members of the team informed about changes in this area.
- Medical information. According to North Carolina policy, DSS must share information about a child’s medical needs, medication, any special conditions, and instructions for the child’s care with the foster parent prior to or at the time of placement. The social worker is responsible for bringing any medications, glasses, hearing aids, etc. to the foster care placement with the child. Social workers should document when these items are given to foster care placement providers. In addition, DSS must provide copies of health summary forms to foster care placement providers.
- Educational information must be shared with foster parents at the time of placement and updated as information is received. The foster parent/caregiver shall receive the Educational Component of the Family Services Agreement, and signs the form to verify receipt. In addition, the foster parent/caregiver should be a part of any discussion regarding Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) or other remedial efforts to assure that the child’s educational needs are met.
At the same time, as partners in the provision of children’s services, foster parents are bound by the same expectations of protecting confidential information as are agency social work staff members. This means that no information learned as a result of their work as foster parents is to be shared outside of that professional service, even if identities are “disguised.” Casual conversations about client information with friends, other foster parents, and others not involved with direct services to the client are prohibited.
For more on this topic, consult “Preparing the Family, the Child, and the Foster Care Provider for Placement” in “Chapter IV: 1201 Child Placement Services” of the NC Division of Social Services Children’s Services Manual.
Adoption, Guardianship, & Promoting Permanence
No. NC does not have a dual licensure/approval process for fostering and adopting. It is important to talk to your agency about your long-term goals for fostering and/or adopting; ask them how they manage families interested in only one process or both.
Post adoption services are available to all families who have adopted a child, regardless of where the child was adopted from. For a list of these resources, visit: https://www.ncdhhs.gov/post-adoption-support-and-resources. For a more extensive reply about post-adoption support, see http://fosteringperspectives.org/fp_v11n1/asks.htm.
Here are some tips for responding questions when a placement change is necessary:
- Maintain the confidentiality of the children, their birth parents, and any others involved. Specifically, avoid sharing details about the progress made by the birth parents or the child’s needs.
- Educate and celebrate. Make sure your friends and family understand how important resource parents are in your community. This should be an opportunity to celebrate your role in the successful return of the child to their birth family or transition to an adoptive home.
- Don’t neglect yourself. Seek support through your licensing agency to make sure you are managing your losses as the children return to their birth parents. While reunification is a positive moment for all involved, there are inherent losses you need to acknowledge and grieve.
- Prepare a response. If this is an emotionally difficult transition for you, prepare a stock answer such as, “The children have returned to their parents. We are excited for them but sad for us and not ready to talk about it yet.” Remember that all of the parties involved–including the child–need the opportunity to feel sad, angry, concerned, and happy. Honor and validate everyone’s feelings, even those that are conflicting.
- Smooth the way for the child. It is very important that children receive the same message from all of the adults involved in this transition, including “emotional permission” and approval to leave the home and community. Make sure the children get a chance to say goodbye to friends, family, and community members if they will not remain a daily part of the children’s lives. This will also prepare everyone for the transition ahead and prevent you from having to answer questions once the children have left. Some suggestions would be to have your community add things to a child’s life book such as letters, drawings, and pictures; host an achievement party for the children and their birth parents; talk to the children about who they want to share with and allow them the opportunity to say farewell.
- Don’t jump to conclusions. Do not assume that because the children are leaving your home, they’ll no longer be a part of your life or community. The intention of shared parenting is for birth and resource parents to work together to parent children. Shared parenting can continue after reunification, with you and your community providing ongoing support and love to the birth parents and children.
Many emotions and dynamics occur when children transition out of a foster home. Always plan for transitions and work together with your licensing agency to manage the conversations and information you share before, during, and after a child’s transition.
The North Carolina General Assembly sets the standard for reimbursement for monthly foster care maintenance payments. The standard is a graduated rate based on the age of the child. The General Assembly adjusts these rates periodically. At the time this answer was composed (Feb. 2017), the Standard Foster Care Board Rates are:
- Age 0-5: $475/month
- Age 6-12: $581/month
- Age 13+: $634/month
Funding for payments comes from a combination of federal, state, and county money.
Since 2003, families who adopted a child with special needs from foster care could claim a one-time federal adoption tax credit even if they had no adoption expenses. Children who receive adoption assistance/subsidy benefits are considered children with special needs. Other adoptive families are also eligible for the credit, but must have (and be able to document, if requested by the IRS) qualified adoption expenses. For more details and resources related to this tax credit, please consult this page by the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC): https://www.nacac.org/taxcredit/taxcredit.html.
One resource to consider is the North Carolina Education and Training Voucher Program, which offers funds to foster youth and former foster youth to enable them to attend a college, university, and vocational training institution. A student may receive up to $5,000 a year for four years as they pursue a post-secondary education. These funds may be used to cover tuition, books, or qualified living expenses. To qualify for this program, the youth must fall into one of these three categories:
- They were in foster care when they turned 18 and aged out
- Their foster care case will be closed between the ages of 18 and 21
- They were adopted from foster care with adoption finalization after their 16th birthday
Other qualifications for this fund include the following: the youth must be a U.S. citizen or qualified non-citizen, the youth’s assets cannot exceed $10,000, the youth must be between the ages of 18-20 when first applying for the funds, and the youth must have been accepted or enrolled in a degree, certificate, or other accredited program at a college, university, or vocational school. To remain qualified for this assistance the youth must show progress towards their degree on a yearly basis. These funds are available on a first-come, first-serve basis to youth out of the North Carolina foster care system. Students receiving funds prior to their 21st birthday may continue to receive support until age 23. For more information on this program please visit https://www.fc2sprograms.org/north-carolina/.
Licensing & Supervising Agencies
Support is definitely important! However, before you make the drastic decision to switch agencies, here are some things you can do to improve your relationship with your current agency and social worker.
1) Determine the exact nature of the problem and communicate your needs. Often, issues can be addressed by identifying what you need from your agency and then articulating those needs. Many times it is natural to attribute “intent” to a worker’s action (or lack of action) before you know their side of the situation. For example, if your calls have not been returned, you may jump to the conclusion that the worker no longer cares about your family. In reality, it is possible that circumstances beyond her control prevented her from responding to you. As you learned in pre-service training, “we all have strengths and needs.” This includes your social worker. Sometimes, by simply communicating clearly about those strengths and needs we see in ourselves and in others, we can resolve the issue at hand.
2) Use the chain of command. Customer service is important to all agencies. Agency leadership wants to know what your experience is (good and bad) and your ideas for making their services better. When faced with an issue you cannot resolve directly with your social worker, take the issue to the worker’s immediate supervisor. If necessary, take the matter up with that person’s supervisor, and so on. Hopefully, in the end, the issue can be resolved.
3) Make use of your agency’s, community’s, and North Carolina’s resources. If you are not receiving the support you desire from your social worker, are there other options at your agency or in your community to get the support you need? Seek out foster parent associations and support groups in your area or the surrounding community. Start a foster parent association at your agency if there isn’t one. If you are not receiving enough support from your social worker, speak to your licensing or training social worker about ways they can support you. On a state level, NC Kids helps the NC Division of Social Services identify and (if possible) resolve obstacles parents face. Should you encounter an obstacle to fostering or adopting, please contact NC Kids toll-free at 877-625-4371. In cases where you would like the State’s opinion and/or intervention, call their toll-free customer service line at 800-662-7030.
4) Weigh your decision to switch agencies carefully. Research the new agency you are considering. The agency may require you to go through many steps you have already completed for your current agency, such as attending its 30-hour pre-service training program. Know, too, that your current agency and new agency will also share information. If you have not attempted to resolve your issues with your current agency, your new agency may not be open to working with you until you at least try. Most importantly, consider the needs and well-being of any children placed in your home. Consider how the transition to a new agency may affect them; have a discussion with the agency that has custody of the children about any possible effects on the children before moving forward with switching agencies.
The one thing to keep in mind if you feel you are not being supported by your social worker or agency is that to meet the needs of children, foster parents and agencies must work in partnership. Working together as partners first and foremost involves communication. If after communicating with your social worker and agency you decide it is in everyone’s best interest for you to switch to a new agency, keep those lines of communication open with both your current and new agency. This will help to make the transition as smooth as possible.
To renew their foster home license, North Carolina foster parents must document they have received 20 hours of in-service training—10 hours of training each year of the 2-year licensing period.
Your supervising agency is responsible for working with you to ensure your foster home license is renewed, and that the process is as smooth as possible. That said, it is good for foster parents to understand the relicensing process, which includes the following:
- A reminder letter, calls, and visits from your licensing worker.
- Efforts on your part to confirm that your home, your health, and your training still meet required standards. This involves a visit from the Fire Inspector, proving your pet vaccinations are up-to-date, getting physicals from your medical provider, and confirming you have received the necessary 20 hours of in-service training (10 hours for each year of the licensing period).
- Completing and signing various forms, including the Environmental and Health Regulations Conditions Check List (DSS-5150), the Re-licensure Check List (DSS-5157), the Discipline Agreement, the Agency Foster Parent Agreement (DSS-1796), and the Foster Care Facility License Action Request (DSS-5015).
To learn more about this process, talk to your licensing worker and/or consult Section III.D of North Carolina’s Foster Home Licensing Manual, which can be found here: https://www2.ncdhhs.gov/info/olm/manuals/dss/csm-94/man/.
North Carolina law and policy require that custodial agencies (typically this is the county department of social services, or DSS) make monthly face-to-face visits with children in foster care. The majority of these visits must take place in the child’s residence (that is, in the foster home). These visits are a golden opportunity for foster parents and kin caregivers to ensure the children’s needs are being met and to sustain honest, supportive relationships with children’s agencies. To document these visits agencies must use the Monthly Foster Care Contact Record (DSS-5295). You can get more out of these visits if you know how to make this form work for you. For example:
- Keep a blank copy on your fridge, so you can remember questions or issues that come up during the month.
- The tool includes an area for your input on the child’s case plan, on how shared parenting and birth family visits are going, on your ideas for in-service training or other supports for your family, and on any other unmet needs for the child. Take time to reflect on these issues before a visit and then discuss your ideas with the social worker.
- The tool can provide a way to get difficult topics onto the table. You can problem-solve with the social worker, either with or without the children present, about how best to address concerns.
- Make a blank copy of the tool for yourself so you can take notes DURING the visit; that way you’ll have a record of the follow-up activities for which you and the social worker are responsible.
- Social workers will spend some time alone with the child during each visit. Give them as much privacy as possible, and allow the child to take the lead in whether he or she wants to talk about the visit afterwards.
Shared parenting, which involves foster parents and birth parents coming together to parent children in foster care, is a key part of the child welfare system in North Carolina and something all foster parents hear about as part of their pre-service training. If you are a licensed foster parent, the best way to learn more about shared parenting is to ask your licensing social worker. Your supervising agency has a vested in interest in your understanding the value of shared parenting and knowing how to make it work. That said, the following are also great sources of insight into shared parenting and the benefits it brings to children, families, and foster parents:
- Videos on this site featuring Donna Foster
- The Power of Shared Parenting
- Shared Parenting Benefits Everyone—Especially Foster Parents!
- Building a Positive Relationship with Birth Parents
- Parent-Child Visits and Shared Parenting
- Shared Parenting Can Reduce Disruptive Behaviors
- Making a Difference by Maintaining Connections
- Taking Care of Yourself While Engaging in Shared Parenting
- Shared Parenting Strategies to Support Permanence