A Brief Overview of Foster Care

We hope this will serve as a resource page for those learning about foster care. It’s an overview only. Look below for ideas on where you can get more information.

How do Children come into Foster Care?
Most children are placed in foster care as the result of a child abuse or neglect complaint made to child protective services. Those complaints start a social work and legal process, usually including offering services to children’s families. If a determination is made that the child will not be protected from further abuse or neglect, the agency can petition the court to bring the child into foster care.

What is a Permanency Plan Goal?
Foster care is meant to be temporary. Children are to stay in foster care only as long as it takes to place them with an adult/s who will provide a safe, loving permanent home. The child’s permanency plan goal defines the type of permanent placement that the child welfare system is working to achieve for that child. The hierarchy of placement options is usually as follows:

  • Reunification. Returning the child to his or her parent/s.
  • Guardianship. Placement with a relative or kin who agrees to become the child’s legal guardian.
  • Adoption. Placement of the child with an adult/s who commits to becoming the child’s legal parent through adoption. Order of preference for adoptive parents is generally: kin, foster parent, or an individual or couple recruited and introduced to the child as adoptive parent/s.
  • Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (“APPLA”). Goal of last resort (and only for children 16 or older); is supposed to include ensuring that a youth who is going to age out of foster care is connected to an adult who will provide a long-term connection.

Permanency goals are set in court, usually based on the recommendation of the child’s social worker.

Who are the Professionals in a Child’s Life while in Foster Care?
Every child is assigned a:

  • Social worker - responsible for making sure the child’s needs are met and services are provided to accomplish the permanency goal.
  • Foster parent or congregate care provider – meets the child’s day to day needs.
  • Guardian Ad Litem (“GAL”) – an attorney appointed by the court who represents the child’s best interests in all proceedings (note that the GAL may interpret the child’s best interest to be something other than what the child says he or she wants).
  • DC Superior Court judge – signs of on bringing a child into foster care and monitors that legal requirements continue to be met.
  • Assistant Attorney General – the government attorney who represents the government’s position in all proceedings.

There may also be:

  • Birth parent’s attorney (unless the birth parents are deceased or their parental rights have been terminated)
  • Educational Advocate – attorney appointed to ensure the child’s educational needs are being met (as in placement in a specialized school)
  • Court Appointed Special Advocate (“CASA”) – trained volunteer who is an agent of the court, appointed by a judge to report to the judge on the best interests of the child.
  • Adoption Recruiter – assigned to children whose goal is adoption and for whom there is not yet an identified adoptive parent.

Every child in care is placed in a foster home or congregate care (group home, independent living program) placement.  Note that foster care placement and permanency goal are not the same thing.

Child and Family Services Agency is the District’s child welfare agency.

Children's Law Center provides direct service and policy work in the areas of child welfare, education, health care access, child custody, guardianship and adoption. CLC also runs a legal Helpline during regular business hours to provide legal information, advice and referrals to DC residents and to assist attorneys representing children in DC’s Family Court. The Helpline number is 202-467-4900, option 3.

The Foster and Adoptive Parent Advocacy Center provides training to help DC foster, kinship and adoptive parents become stronger advocates for the children in their homes and to develop a network of peer advocacy in the foster parent community. They provide individual case advocacy for families and have a systemic advocacy agenda directed exclusively at issues identified by the foster and adoptive parent community.

The Post Permanency Family Center (PPFC) provides support, guidance, and information to the adoption/guardianship community in the Washington DC metropolitan area.  PPFC offers counseling and support to children and families before, during, and after their adoption or guardianship petitions have been finalized.  The Center links families to supportive community resources, offers support groups for children and families, and provides training in permanency-related issues for parents and professionals.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Child Welfare Information Gateway has information, resources, and tools on topics covering child welfare, child abuse and neglect, out-of-home care, and adoption.

The National Center for Child Welfare Excellence provides information about projects and activities – including education and training programs, technical assistance, research and evaluation and best practice services.

Child welfare is a state function, operating under federal and state law with some federal funding. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau works with State and local agencies to develop programs to prevent child abuse, protect children from abuse, and find permanent placements for children who cannot safely return to their homes.

Foster Care Alumni of America was founded by and is led by alumni of the foster care system. The mission of FCAA is to connect the alumni community and to transform foster care policy and practice, ensuring opportunity for people in and from foster care

FosterClub is the national network for young people in foster care. Information for youth in or of care and for their “boosters.”

Youth Communication helps teenagers, including foster youth, develop their skills in reading, writing, thinking, and reflection, so they can acquire the information they need to make thoughtful choices about their lives. They publish Represent, the magazine written by and for teens in foster care, providing them a voice to share personal experiences, to plan for their future, and to help them negotiate the present.