A child I know has been taken into foster care. Can I help?
How can I help a child I know whose entered foster care?
You do not need to be a blood relative to help a child who has entered foster care.
There are times when the foster care system comes into our lives on a personal level. A child of someone you know, but are not related to, has entered or is about to enter foster care. What are your options to help this child and their family?
The first and most important thing to decide is how you want to help this situation. Do you want to help support the biological family? Do you want to become a foster family and have sole custody over the child or children?
If you want to help support the biological family, you can work with them as their “natural support.” Each family has different needs that could have contributed to the child being removed. A need could be as small as helping a family with reliable transportation to their appointments or as large as providing regular care for the child while the parent works.
You could decide to make the major decision of wanting to pursue a custody arrangement with the child. There are a few options if you want to be involved by getting physical or sole legal custody.
This occurs during the removal process. The family member the child is being removed from will be asked if any people would care for the child. This is to prevent the child from coming into foster care.
Financial or case management support is minimal. This transfer of custody can be temporary or permanent.
Becoming a kinship placement
If the child enters foster care, the courts and the Department of Social Services (DSS) can grant custody to kin. Though you may not be blood-related, the state recognizes “ fictive kin,” which is a person who is a non-relative but has ties to the child. Fictive kin could be a teacher, a neighbor, or a friend of the family.
You would petition for custody and go through the home study process. You may work with a Departments of Social Services social worker to ensure a child’s needs are met.
If the child is already in foster care, the courts and Departments of Social Services will work toward reunification with the biological family first while also going through the home study process with you. Should the family not be able to regain custody, then you may be considered a placement option.
More services for Kinship Guardians are becoming available through the Family First Prevention Services Act – designed to keep children out of foster care.
Becoming a licensed foster parent
Before or after the child comes into care, contact us at FosterVA to chat about your options. You can contact the DSS in the city/county the child resided in and go through the home study process to become a licensed foster parent with them. This is so you can provide temporary care for the child.
At the same time, the courts work toward reunification with the birth parents. You can also contact a Therapeutic Foster Care Agency (TFC) to become licensed. Still, the local DSS often prefers to go through locally licensed foster parents first and then to TFC parents if the foster child has demonstrated extraordinary need.
If you are already a licensed foster parent
Suppose you are licensed through a different locality than the one the child has entered care through. In that case, the child’s locality can “borrow” you to use as a foster placement.
It can be tricky if you are licensed through a Therapeutic Foster Care Agency and want to foster a specific child who came into care. Localities often prefer to go through a local social service department before contracting with a TFC agency, especially if they do not consider the child to have therapeutic needs.
If you are concerned about a child under 18 who may be experiencing abuse or neglect, please get in touch with the Virginia Abuse and Neglect Hotline to make a report. If you’re In Virginia, call (800) 552-7096; if you’re out of state, call (804) 786-8536. If you choose, you can remain anonymous.