Despite months of preparation, paperwork, training, and home studies, many families still report feeling unprepared (and often alone) as they welcome children into their homes. In addition to caring for traumatized children, foster parents must navigate a complex and confusing child welfare system. In light of this, we have created a Resource Guide for Current Foster/Kinship Families. We hope this resource will help to answer your questions, connect you with resources, and help you build a healthy support system.
What is the legal process for children in foster care?
Having placed a child in foster care, DFPS will continue to assess what is in the best interest of the child. Children may be reunited with their biological families (usually following a “service plan,” whereby the biological parents demonstrate the ability to provide safe and nurturing care). Alternatively, an extended family member or close friend may be willing to assume responsibility for the child (this is called kinship care). Otherwise, the child will remain in foster care, becoming adoptable if/when the court terminates biological parental rights. Typically, a child’s case from placement to trial (where a path to permanency is determined) will last about 12-15 months, but any number of factors may prolong or abbreviate the process.
What is the likelihood that I will be able to adopt the child I am fostering?
The primary goal for children in foster care is family preservation and reunification. When reuniting with the child’s biological family is no longer an option, there may be an opportunity to adopt a child through the foster care system. If you are considering foster care primarily as a means of growing your family through adoption, we gently recommend examining your motivations. Children in foster care need loving families who will support them and put their needs first, even if it means reunification with their biological family. In other words, foster families are called upon to assume a degree of unpredictability, and there is no guarantee that you will be able to adopt your foster child.
That said, at any given moment, there are hundreds of children in Houston’s foster system who are currently awaiting adoption.
What ongoing support/training is available to foster parents?
Most certified placing agencies (CPAs) provide ongoing support and training for their foster families. In addition, many nonprofits and faith-based communities in Houston are committed to making sure families are well-supported and thriving. There are a growing number of support groups, parents’ night outs, resource closets, trauma-informed care training, and other helpful resources. To find a list of local community support resources, please visit fostering-family.org/resources.
What is WIC and how does it work?
WIC is a federal government program that serves to safeguard the health of low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating including breastfeeding promotion and support, and referrals to health care. All children currently in foster care qualify for WIC.
Keep in mind the following when setting up WIC:
The monthly household income disclosed on the WIC form is the child’s income, which is the daily foster care reimbursement rate x 30 days per month (not the foster parent income).
WIC is most helpful when purchasing baby formula for infant placements.
All infants are started on Similac Advance formula unless an alternative order is given by the pediatrician. If your child requires a different formula, be sure to get an order from your pediatrician.
When the child turns 1 year old, additional food items may be covered by WIC, if needed (these items are brand and size-specific according to WIC guidelines).
Call ahead to schedule your first WIC appointment and ask what documentation you will need to bring. Also, confirm whether you will need to bring the child to the first appointment.
At your first appointment, you will receive a debit card with the child’s prescription and a pin number. This card can be used for purchasing WIC-approved items.
Always check to see if the child needs to be present for an appointment.
Online training is required to be completed periodically. These can be completed online (write down your certificate number and take to your next appointment).
Most grocery stores accept WIC, but it’s important to verify before purchasing.
Find your local WIC office here.
What is NCI and how does it work?
NCI is a state-wide government program that offers financial aid for child care so that the cost doesn’t prevent parents from attending work and/or school. This program is available to foster families, regardless of their income, if:
The child is assessed at a Basic level of care.
Both foster parents work full-time or a single foster parent works full-time (at least 40 hours/week).
Child is not in adoptive placement (signed adoptive placement paperwork).
Not all child care facilities accept NCI payment. Click here for a list of NCI Providers and to apply for financial aid. There have been instances where the child care facility does not officially accept NCI, but they agree to accept the NCI negotiated rate from the State provided the foster parent pays the difference between the NCI rate and normal tuition.
Foster parents are encouraged to apply as soon as a placement is made (if the child will be enrolled as soon as possible) as the approval process can take a few months.
Should I attend court hearings?
Unless discouraged by the child’s Attorney Ad Litem, it is recommended that foster parents attend court hearings, most importantly the status and permanency hearings. This allows foster parents to stay updated on the child’s case and provides an opportunity to advocate for the child.
What should I expect at family visitation?
Visitation with biological family members usually occurs at a DFPS office during normal business hours. Typically, the foster parent drops off the child and then returns for pick up. Visitations should be scheduled in advance on a regular basis. If biological family members are frequently absent, you may request that DFPS take additional measures to avoid disrupting the child’s schedule or expectations. This might require family members to confirm the visit 24 hours in advance.
You may come into contact with biological family members before, after, or during visitation. See the below FAQ “How much should I interact with biological parents?” for more information. If your caseworker deems it inappropriate for you to come into contact with the biological family at visitation, arrangements can be made in advance. For example, you may park in a designated spot, call the caseworker upon arrival, and the caseworker can get the child from your car.
It is common for the child to feel out of sorts after visitation. They are going between two caregivers, and this brings up lots of complex feelings. Many of these feelings may be difficult for the child to understand. Lower your expectations for those days and practice empathy and patience.
How much should I interact with biological parents?
Unless discouraged by your Caseworker or Attorney Ad Litem, we believe it’s important to respectfully engage biological families as the situation allows. In the child welfare system, support for biological families is often overlooked, but it can be a great way to care for the child in your home. You can show support by sending photos or cards from the child to his/her biological parents (via your caseworker), or by dressing the child for visits in clothes given by parents, etc. You may also pack the child’s favorite toys, favorite foods, hair brushes, nail clippers, or other items that may help a child to bond during visits. Knowing that someone cares can be very meaningful to a mother or father who is trying to get back on their feet.
Every case is different, and engagement with biological families is not always possible. When it is possible, interactions should always happen under the guidance of your caseworker.
How do I introduce my foster child to others?
When a child is welcomed into the family, many parents are unsure how to introduce them to family and friends. If the child is old enough to engage in discussion, ask the child how he/she would like to be introduced. If the child is not old enough to discuss, a safe option is to introduce the child by their first name. Family members and friends may already know the journey you’re on. Strangers don’t need to be filled in on all the details.
How do I handle nosy questions from strangers or family members about my foster child’s history?
As foster parents, our job is to protect the children in our care, and that includes their history. It is the child’s story to share when he/she chooses. Young children typically don’t yet understand the complex reasons why they entered into foster care, but you do not need to speak for them. People unrelated to the legal case do not need to know the child’s history before he/she does. When questions from outsiders are asked, be prepared with a one liner that is respectful, but sets a privacy boundary out of concern for the child. For example, “It’s a complicated story, but it’s her story to share when she’s ready.”
How do I prepare my biological children for the possibility of fostering a child we won’t be able to adopt?
There is always the potential for loss when fostering. It’s important for parents to help their children understand what foster care is – providing a safe and loving home for a child as long as it is needed. Usually it is temporary; sometimes it is forever.
It is helpful to set expectations for biological children by helping them to understand (in an age appropriate way) that the child could stay for a short time or a long time, but either way you get to show them love and care while the child is in your home. Avoid using terms like “brother” or “sister” until permanency has been firmly established.
It’s understandable to have concerns about the effects of foster care on your biological children. There will likely be disruptions to daily life, diverted attention, added stress, and possibly grief from saying goodbye. But there will also be life lessons that can’t be forgotten. They learn empathy and how to sacrificially love others, even from an early age. Regardless of the outcome, many siblings take great pride in getting to play a role in welcoming a child and helping a family to heal.
Should it really be this hard?
In short, yes. Trauma that happens in relationship must be healed in relationship. And this is hard work. Progress often feels like two steps forward and one step back. As a foster parent you play an important role, but it often takes a team of professionals to meet the needs of a child who has come from a hard place. Lean into your community, and do not be afraid to seek professional help from your agency, health care providers, and therapists.