When You Are in Foster Care
|Biological family – A biological family is the
family a child is born into.
Foster family – A foster family cares for a
child until a child can return home or until a
child is adopted.
Permanency plan – The permanency plan is
a paper that says what the agency’s plan is
for a child in foster care. It will say if the plan
is for the child to return home or if the plan is
for adoption. It must also say when the child
will return home or move to an adoptive home.
Reunification – The child returns to his or her
Adoption – A child becomes a permanent
member of a new family.
Guardian ad litem (GAL) – a person who
represents children in foster care in court.
The GAL is usually, but not always, an attorney.
CASA – This stands for Court Appointed
Special Advocate. Sometimes a judge asks a
CASA worker to speak for children in the
Open adoption – Open adoption means
biological parents and adoptive parents
know about each other. They might talk
to each other before and after the child
Permanency hearing – a court hearing
to decide if a child will return home or
be adopted by another family.
Children in foster care often have lots of questions. Questions like — Why am I here? What happens next? Are my parents okay? Are my brothers and sisters okay? What’s going to happen to me? Can I go back home? What if I don’t want to go back home? Where can I go for help? Children in foster care have lots of different feelings about being in foster care. Feelings like – fear, sadness, relief, or worry.
This article reviews some things you might wonder about. It probably won’t talk about everything you wonder about so you might want to ask your biological family, foster family, social worker, or another adult more questions after reading this.
Kids have all kinds of feelings about going into foster care. Kids in foster care sometimes feel:
You might have these feelings or others that are not written here. They are all normal. How do you feel about being in foster care? It can help to talk about your feelings with someone else. Writing about them or drawing a picture about them can help too.
Kids enter foster care for many reasons. Usually children and adolescents enter foster care because the court or their family has decided the child needs a safe place to stay for a while. Foster care is supposed to give families time to make changes while the child stays in a safe place.
For example, sometimes parents have to work on using a different way of getting their kids to do what they want them to do – they might work on doing this without hurting their child.
Sometimes it means the family needs to make changes in their home to make it safer for children. They might need to make someone who is hurting the child move out, or they might need to get the water and electricity hooked up.
Sometimes the child is very sick or has mental health care needs that the parents couldn’t take care of. Or, parents might be learning how to quit using alcohol or other drugs. Whatever the reason, foster care is supposed to make sure that the child has a safe place to stay while the family is making the home a safer place for the child.
What happens next depends on what the permanency plan says.
If the permanency plan says that you will return home, the paper will say there is a plan for reunification. If the plan is not for you to return home, the paper will say there is a plan for adoption.
Sometimes agencies make two plans at once. They hope for the child to return home, but make a back up plan for adoption at the same time in case the return home turns out not to be the best plan for the child.
If the plan is for you to return to your biological family, your parent(s) will have some things that the agency says they need to work on. You might be asked to work on things too.
For example, a parent might have to stop using alcohol or other drugs before their child can come home. A child might have to go to counseling before they can go back to his or her biological family.
Here are some things you can do:
- Find out what your social worker and the judge want your parent(s) and you to do. Ask your social worker if the plan is for you to go back to your biological family.
- If you want to return to your biological family, be sure to say that to the social workers, to the judge, and to your guardian ad litem (GAL) or CASA worker. (If you don’t want to go back to your biological family, let them know that too.)
- Ask for visits with your biological family. Things seem to go best for children and families if they have visits one or two times a month.
- Talk to your biological family on the telephone.
If the plan is for another family to adopt you, you might think you cannot do anything and you’ll never see your biological family again.
But, sometimes when children are adopted, they still have contact with their biological family. This is especially true when older children are adopted. This is called open adoption.
If you were to have an open adoption, it would mean your biological family would know where you would be living, and your adoptive parents would know how to reach your biological family too.
You might be able to have letters, phone calls, or visits from your biological family.
Sometimes open adoption is not possible, and parents cannot know where their child has gone and the parent and child don’t talk to each other or see each other (at least until the child is 18-years- old).
If you are adopted by another family, remember that you didn’t make this happen. Whatever happened before you entered foster care and adoption was not your fault.
If you do join another family through adoption, remember that it is okay to grow up in a different family. It is okay to love the new family. It is also okay to continue to love and miss your biological family.
- Try to get along with the people in your foster home.
- Talk to your social worker. Let the social worker know what you want to happen for you and your family. If you are not comfortable talking about it, you might try writing it down for your social worker instead.
- Let your foster parent(s) and your social worker know if you want to see or talk to your parents or brothers and sisters. It might not always be possible, but it is important to let people know if this is what you want.
It’s OK to be close to your biological family and your foster family at the same time. You don’t have to choose between them.
Sometimes kids feel funny or awkward on visits with their biological family. It might seem weird to see your family when you haven’t seen them for a while. It’s normal to feel that way. Sometimes kids and parents aren’t sure what to talk about.
You might want to tell your family things like:
- what kinds of things you’ve been doing
- what you’ve been learning in school
- any new friends you’ve made
- any new interests you have
- anything else that is important to you
If you feel unsafe visiting your family, it’s important to let someone know that too.
Your foster family is there to care for you until you return to your biological family. (If you won’t be returning to your biological family, the foster family is there to care for you until you are adopted.)
Your foster family and your biological family are partners in caring for you. And remember – you don’t have to choose between them.
You might become very close to your foster parents and think of them as family members. That’s okay. You might not want to get close to your foster parents. That’s okay too, but you still need to work on getting along with them and other members of the foster family.
The agency your social worker works for and the judge at the court have rules that they have to follow when they work with children in foster care. The rules were written in a law called the Adoption and Safe Families Act.
The law was written to help children have a permanent (forever) home fast. The judge and the social worker have to decide if it will be better for you to go back home or to be adopted by another family.
The judge and the social worker have to have a court hearing during the first year that a child is in foster care. This hearing is called a permanency hearing. At the permanency hearing, the court has to decide if you will:
a) go back home;
b) be adopted by a different family; or
c) go to some other permanent home if there’s a reason you can’t return home and if adoption is not a good idea for you.
A lot of children in foster care say no one listens to them or asks their opinion about important decisions about their future. You might feel that way too.
If you do feel like no one is listening to what you want for your future, ask to talk to your guardian ad litem or CASA worker. Their job is to listen to you. That doesn’t mean things will always end up the way that you want, but you’ll have a better chance of things going the way you want if you let others know what is on your mind.