Becoming a Foster Parent in Virginia: Essential Criteria

Foster child with a heart on her chest

Now more than ever, there is a need for foster parents in Virginia due to the increasing number of children placed in state care. As of 2022, there are over 5,000 children who have lost their parental rights. These children need a loving home that supports them during their time in the foster care system.

Over 20,000 children leave foster care every year without having any permanent home. This is called aging out of foster care and happens when they turn 18 and become adults. These children need the resources and support from good foster parents to live independent and successful lives. If not, they will end up on the streets again.

If you’ve got a big heart and a lot of love to give, there’s nothing you could do better than becoming a foster parent in Virginia. This way, you can live a fulfilled life while showing a child what it feels like to be loved in a stable family.

If you’re looking to apply to become a foster parent, here are some essential criteria to meet:

Skills Needed to Be Good Foster Parents

When looking into becoming a foster parent in Virginia, first do a self-evaluation to understand whether or not you have the skills to parent a foster child. Here are the top skills needed to be good foster parents in Virginia:


Becoming a foster parent and caring for a foster child takes patience and compassion. You will face many obstacles along the way, such as acting out and depressive episodes. However, embracing them as a short hurdle toward your ultimate goal would be best. It may take some time for you and your family to adjust to this new lifestyle. It may also take some time for the foster child to adjust to your house and rules. In such situations, you must bring out your generosity and show everyone your kindness.


New foster parents have one thing in common – they all struggle with communication. There must be open communication with the foster child and all parties involved. These include your child-placing agency, your child’s birth parents, and your family members. Everyone must know the importance of open communication to cater to the new household member. If anyone is uncomfortable with the rules and chores, they need to be able to voice out their opinions freely.


Most foster children don’t come from a home with much structure. As a result, it is unfair to discipline them. It would be best to show them you are here to support their needs and care for the rest of the family. You are generous but also compassionate. The best way to do this is by practicing positive reinforcement. Children learn when rewarded for good behavior. As many foster children have traumatic pasts, it is best to avoid reminding them of it by only seeking positivity with rewards.


Being a foster parent can be a challenging but rewarding experience. Bringing a new child into your home will be an adjustment for the entire family, not only the foster kid. It would be best to rearrange everyone’s routines and schedules to fit the new family dynamics. Unexpected events may arise due to your foster child's emotional, medical, or physical needs. Time management is critical to your success, and you must be flexible and prepared for all possible scenarios. At the end of the day, when you see a child finally receive love, you’ll know it was all worth it.


If you feel like you’re in the stage of your life where you have a lot to give, there’s nothing better to do than foster parenting. Foster parenting takes just as much energy, if not more, than parenting your biological children. If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent, you must ensure you have the stamina to do so. You need to be able to keep up with the child’s needs, which are constantly changing. Any parent knows how life is in full-speed-ahead mode when raising children. The very same goes for fostering kids. Nonetheless, it is gratifying.

Role Model

Often, a foster child lacks a role model in their life. They don’t have anyone to look up to and follow regarding their lifestyle or goals. This can make it hard for them to fit in, and they might struggle to make meaningful friendships. You need to show your foster child all the love that is right in front of them. It would be best to show them how they live in an empathetic home with warm-hearted individuals who only want what’s best for them.

Requirements & Qualifications for Foster Parents

If you look at the requirements needed to become a foster parent in Virginia, you may feel overwhelmed at first. However, while the list is lengthy, it is pretty reasonable regarding caring for a child who needs a safe place to live. The system's primary goal is to find families for children, not children for families. If you’re willing to take a step forward to care for a child who needs you, we do not doubt you’ll make it through to the end of the approval and licensing process. ESP is here to support you every step of the way.

Eligibility Criteria

The Virginia Department of Social Services provides potential foster parents with a list of eligibility criteria to meet to become foster parents. This list is specific to parents looking to foster in Virginia, though it is similar to requirements in many other states. If you’re part of a two-parent household, both parents must meet these criteria to qualify for foster care.

The requirements in Virginia are as follows:

  • You must be at least 18 years old and, in some circumstances, at least 21 years old
  • Attend a one-time orientation meeting about foster parenting (free and no obligation to continue)
  • Complete 40 hours of pre-service foster parent training
  • Complete a Home Study, including interviews, background checks, and home visits
  • Participate in at least three face-to-face interviews

Background Checks

Aside from meeting the eligibility criteria, potential foster parents in Virginia must also pass the required background checks and assessments. These assessments are to ensure that the foster child is not going to enter a home that is safe and stable. As previously, both parents must pass these checks in a two-parent household.

The background checks are as follows:

  • You must submit a National Fingerprint Criminal Record check
  • Submit a child abuse and neglect history check
  • Pass a DMV check without any fines or tickets
  • Provide a physician’s report verifying that you are physically and mentally capable of caring for a child
  • Verify that you have sufficient and stable income to provide for your family
  • Provide an autobiographical statement of your life
  • Submit the names of three references

Training and Preparation for Foster Parents

If you’re looking to bring a foster child into your loving home, you must also complete 40 hours of training to be eligible. This training can significantly help you prepare to be a great foster parent. It also ensures the safety of the foster child.

The training is divided into five sessions:

Session 1

The first training session is the orientation to your Licensed Child-Placing Agency (LCPA). This session will introduce you to the LCPA and how it focuses on child welfare to prevent neglect, emotional maltreatment, physical abuse, and sexual abuse of all children. You will learn of conditions and experiences that may cause developmental delays that affect attachment, the concept of permanence for children, and the selection of the permanency goal.

This session will also teach you how important it is for your foster child to be reunified with their birth family. It will help you understand the process of reunification with a child or sibling group. It is important that your foster child has visits with their birth family to strengthen relationships. Therefore, you need to go into foster parenting with the mindset that at any time, your foster child can be returned to their birth family. You also have the option of adopting your foster child if you’ve grown attached to them and believe there is so much more you can offer them.

Session 2

The second session of the training will focus on grief and loss. When a foster child is separated from their family and placed in foster care, they experience the loss of their family. This session will provide the tools to help a child process their grief and loss. It’ll also help you understand how these feelings might influence their behavior.

You must understand how your supportive and stable home will comfort the foster child. You must help them understand their feelings and cultivate their sense of identity, history, culture, and values. Foster families should respect a child's connection to his birth family, previous foster families, and all those who have played significant roles in their lives. Foster parents must care for children with open minds and without judgment.

Session 3

The third session of foster parent training will focus on youth development and behavioral interventions. The goal is to help you understand how to address unwanted behaviors effectively. The session acknowledges that everyone is imperfect. You can’t be a perfect foster parent and won’t have a perfect foster child. That doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong. You need to have a structured and intentional approach to parenting, considering their developmental level.

You will learn positive behavior management strategies and the stages of average human growth and development. We know you are very excited to become foster parents. This training session will help you become even better foster parents so you can parent your foster child more effectively. Methods of less intrusive support and crisis management techniques are highlighted to avoid the use of physical touch as a disciplinary measure, as there can be no corporal punishment for foster children.

Session 4

The fourth training session will focus on the regulatory standards of foster care. It will introduce you to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s licensing standards and the regulation of agencies like Extra Special Parents. The ultimate goal of this session is to ensure that you comply with federal and state standards for treatment through foster care agencies. Following these protocols will ensure your home will be a safe environment for the foster child.

We know you are eager to bring a new child into your home. And we know you’ll shower them with love and support. But you should still know that your agency may require you to receive additional training if they deem it necessary. This training will also explain confidentiality requirements to potential foster parents. You will understand that you must keep all information regarding the child and their circumstances coming into care confidential.

Session 5

The fifth session of the training will focus on understanding trauma and youth in foster care. You will learn to identify and report child abuse of all types. You will also understand what to expect behaviorally when providing care for youth in foster care, especially if they have a history of abuse/neglect. As a potential foster parent, you are taking in a child who likely has a rough past. Nothing is more rewarding than providing such children with a safe space to grow.

The final areas of training you will go through before a child can be placed in your home are First Aid and CPR training and Medication Administration management records (MARs). When you are entrusted with a child, some of these children come with the need for medical support. Medication support could be from topical creams to oral antibiotics. The law requires us to keep documentation MARs to record anything a doctor has orders to give a child in care.

Cost of Becoming a Foster Parent in Virginia

Most people who choose to be foster parents do it because they have a lot of love to give. Chances are you have a warm heart and want every child to feel loved and wanted. That said, it is essential to account for the financial impacts of becoming a foster parent in Virginia. This is very similar to the cost of adopting a child in Virginia. Both processes require financial considerations that are above and beyond the financial assistance provided by Virginia:

Financial Considerations of Becoming a Foster Parent

If you’re looking to foster a child, chances are that you still have to apply to become a foster parent. There is little to no cost for the process itself. However, you will encounter expenses to prepare your home and life to care for a child.

The Home Study includes a home safety inspection. Your specialist will prepare a report outlining any changes you must make to meet the safety requirements of caring for a child. These could require no changes, simple fixes, or even extensive repairs. It helps to be prepared if you are required to change aspects of your home to meet the safety standards of social services.

Similarly, you must have the flexibility in your schedule to complete training, participate in interviews, and have agency representatives conduct home visits. Any of these commitments could require you to take some time off work.

Many parents also enjoy setting up personal space for their foster child with age-appropriate activities and décor that meets both the needs and interests of their foster child.

Emotional Cost

Most people don’t talk about this enough, but being a foster parent can take a significant toll on your mental health as well. While you may be eager to shower your foster child with love, you must understand that they are only with you temporarily unless you choose to adopt them. When they finally leave their permanent home, you may feel sadness or even the grief of loss.

In addition to your emotional self-care, as a foster parent, you must be prepared to support your foster child’s emotional needs. Most foster children experience trauma, so they will need patience and stability as they get settled into your home and the many unknowns ahead of them.

Financial Assistance for Foster Parents

Now that we’ve discussed the costs you will face on your journey to becoming the best foster parents in Virginia, we should also discuss all the benefits available to foster parents. These benefits are intended to offset the basic costs of caring for a child in need and provide additional tax-free benefits to foster families. It would be best if you never went into fostering because of these benefits. But if you do go into fostering, know that these benefits will help support your foster family:

State Maintenance Payments

As a foster parent, you are entitled to receive state or local funding for helping a foster child who needs a safe and loving place to live. The type of funding you'll receive depends on whether your foster children are IV-e eligible or not. If they are, funds are granted via federal and state funding. If not, funds are granted through state and local funding. The funding is intended to be used towards the basic costs of childcare, such as food and clothing. They are not intended to cover utility bills or rent. The payment amount generally depends on the age range of the foster child and is as follows:

Ages 0-4 receive $471 per month

Ages 5-12 receive $552 per month

Ages 13 and up receive $700 per month

Enhanced Maintenance

In foster care, we have to understand that every child is different. Some children may require extra attention and services, which can cost much more than the given state funding. Social services know you’re doing your best given your circumstances, but they want to provide additional resources if needed. If you feel like your foster child needs additional funding to fulfill their needs, you can request an evaluation by the Treatment Foster Care agency.

Clothing Reimbursement

We know that foster parents must meet their child’s growing needs for clothing, and many enjoy showering their foster child with clothes. That said, you can also receive funding from your agency to provide your foster child with seasonal clothes. Let’s say the weather has changed, and it’s now winter. It would be best to get winter coats and boots for your foster child that will last them the entire year. These seasonal items can be bought from the clothing funds provided to you by your agency or social services.

Property Damage Fund

In rare circumstances, foster children struggling with trauma may act out and cause accidental or deliberate damage in your home. They may act out during the initial days of their stay due to fear, anger, or mistrust. In exceptional circumstances like this, you will be given a separate allowance to deal with such property damages. However, your ultimate goal should be to support your foster child through their inner challenges so they can grow comfortable and even open up to you and the care team providers.

Medicaid Qualification

Did you know that foster children automatically qualify for Medicaid? It doesn’t matter if you have Medicaid or any other insurance plan. You don’t have to worry about the insurance of your foster child, and you can focus entirely on supporting all their physical and emotional needs. While some insurance companies consider factors like age and income, Medicaid provides insurance to all foster children, regardless of age, health requirements, or the foster care agency.

Home Study Expectations for Foster Parents

A Home Study aims to give the foster care agency, court, and Home Study writer an accurate idea of your family life, living conditions, lifestyle, and readiness to care for a foster child. You may think that a Home Study only consists of home visits.

A Home Study takes into account several aspects of your life to ensure the health and safety of the foster child in your care:


As part of the Home Study, you must be prepared to be interviewed several times before being allowed to foster a child. Your partner and children will also be interviewed in this process to understand the family dynamics and whether or not the home is safe for the child. Expect to answer questions about your goals for fostering, family life, daily schedule, and other responsibilities. Your specialist will also ask you about preferred age ranges, whether you plan to adopt, and whether you'd consider siblings.

Health Statements

When getting into foster care, you must know that you must be physically and mentally fit to care for a foster child. Medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure aren't usually a concern if you take medication and see your doctor for a treatment plan. Additionally, if you have a family history of mental health, you may need to provide further reports and information. You must expect a physical exam and a green light from your doctor during the Home Study process.

Proof of Income

While foster parents are provided with state funding to care for a foster child, they must still show they have enough funds to care for their family independently. This ensures you can provide for your family and deter foster parenting for money.  Foster stipends and other tax-deferred financial assistance can be substantial. However, they are intended to offset the costs of caring for a child rather than serve as a source of family income.

Background Checks

All potential foster parents must undergo a background check and examine local, state, and federal criminal records. The background check process also looks for red flags, such as any history of child abuse. Some states require a fingerprint record. Virginia is one of these states, and your social worker will help you complete the paperwork during the Home Study process and interviews. After all, the goal of the foster care system is to provide children with a loving home and help families meet their fostering goals.

Autobiographical Statement

Aside from the interviews, a Home Study specialist may also want to get to know you and your lifestyle through your own eyes. They would like you to write an autobiographical statement where you describe the story of your life, including past events and current situations. You can write this statement as a letter or create a scrapbook. A Home Study specialist may also accept your social media pages as your autobiographical statement.


It would be best to have a couple of verified references when getting into foster care. The reference list should contain the names and contact information of non-family members. Instead, they can be from colleagues at work, close friends, or community members. These references will be contacted and interviewed over the phone or in person. The purpose of these references is to ensure that everything about you checks out with no red flags.

Home Visits

The last part of the Home Study is the home visit, where an inspector will check if your house is safe to host a foster child. During the home visit, inspectors look for any hazards. Generally, this means an unsanitary environment, toxic chemicals, unsecured firearms, or other safety hazards. Homes must meet state licensing standards, including working smoke detectors, safe water, covered pools, etc. If your home doesn’t meet these standards, be prepared to make them up to standard out of your own pocket.

Home Visit Checklist

When going through the Home Study process, you will get a list in advance of all the things that you need in your home to pass the home visit. A social worker or foster agency will provide this list to you.

The home visit checklist is as follows:

  • Ensure the home is adequately lighted, heated, and ventilated
  • Safely store all household cleaning chemicals and dangerous chemicals or materials
  • Lock up all firearms and projectile weapons and store them in an inoperative condition
  • Keep ammunition and projectiles for weapons in a separate, locked area
  • Ensure access to a working telephone
  • Test smoke detectors
  • Post emergency telephone numbers
  • Ensure the home has a working bathroom and toilet facilities
  • The house has a working smoke detector on each level
  • The home has a written evacuation plan
  • Escape routes are free of obstacles
  • Well water is tested and approved (if applicable)
  • Hazardous outdoor areas are reasonably safeguarded (such as pools)
  • The home is clean, safe, sanitary, and reasonably repaired
  • Stairways accessible to children have safety gates (depending on the child's age)
  • The foster child's bedroom contains no more than four children
  • Bedrooms have access to the emergency exit
  • All vehicles used to transport the child have liability coverage
  • Booster seats are available (if applicable)

Fostering Medically Fragile Children in Virginia

Medically fragile children in the foster care system refer to children who are medically compromised and may even be in the failure to thrive stage. They could have been born with a chronic health condition or are experiencing an acute health condition. What they all have in common is that they are sick, alone, and in need of a loving foster parent who will help them feel safe.

When looking for a foster home for a medically fragile child, social services prefer families who have a background in caring for someone with medical needs. You don’t have to have a doctor’s or nursing degree. If you provided hospice care for a sick parent or family member, chances are you can care for a medically fragile child in Virginia as well.

There are several other criteria that you have to meet to qualify to care for a medically fragile child. For instance, you must have a flexible schedule to take the child for emergency hospital visits when necessary. Another requirement is to be a fierce supporter of the medically fragile child. Unfortunately, due to bias in the medical system, foster parents must advocate for doctors to take their child's medical concerns seriously.

All these children need is a safe and loving home. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a medical background, so long as you’re willing to learn along the way. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t cared for a medically fragile person before, so long as you’re ready to care for this one.

Fostering Immigrant Children in Virginia

Undoubtedly, we are in the midst of a global economic crisis. There are children who need foster care all across the world. Several families who have entered the United States illegally have lost custody of their children. These children also need foster families willing to take them in and provide them with a safe home and roof over their heads.

There are not enough foster families in Virginia willing to take in an American child. There are even fewer foster families who are eager to take in an immigrant child. If you want to bring a child into the United States to foster, you have to sponsor their stay. Depending on your citizenship status, you may only be allowed to sponsor certain types of children in Virginia. While the process can be pretty time-consuming, the light at the end of the tunnel is that a child is now in a safe space.

Avenues of Adoption Services in Virginia

Once you’ve evaluated yourself and understood that you have the skills to become good foster parents, the next step is looking towards different routes to foster a child. Here are the various avenues of adoption services in Virginia:

Local Department of Social Services

The most popular way to adopt a child is through your Local Department of Social Services (LDSS). The only way you can adopt a child through LDSS is if the state has been granted custody of the child and the parental rights of the child have been terminated. While the ultimate goal of LDSS is to return the child to its biological family or another permanent loving home, this might not be possible immediately. In the meantime, the child must be placed in foster care.

Licensed Child-Placing Agencies

Similar to the Local Department of Social Services, Licensed Child Placing Agencies can also help you adopt a child who is now in state custody and has become eligible for adoption. While children in foster care through these agencies are only there temporarily, you can also apply to adopt them after they’ve been with you for at least six months. At the end of the day, it is your LDSS who will decide whether you’d be a good foster parent. You need to meet all their qualifications and requirements to do so.

Private Adoption Agencies

If you’re looking for a more alternative route to adopting in Virginia, you can do so through private agencies. This process can be pretty expensive compared to foster-to-adopt. Those who have the means may opt for the private agency route because it allows them to specify age and other characteristics and allows the biological family to choose them to adopt their baby. Through this process, biological parents voluntarily put their child up for placement. Through private adoption, you will get a profile of all the kids who are voluntarily up for adoption. Always discuss the costs and a refund if the birth mother changes their mind after the baby is born.

Adoption Websites

While this may sound like a back alley deal, there are plenty of people who choose to adopt a child through adoption websites. The most popular websites include Family-Match and AdoptUSKids. If you’re looking to foster or adopt, you can create a profile on these websites, and families looking to give their child up for adoption can match with you if they’re interested. If you feel like you’re getting overwhelmed with all these options, it is easy to talk to a Virginia child-placing agency that can walk you through the pros and cons while keeping your family goals in mind.

Disqualifications for Foster Parents in Virginia

You have so far learned the essential criteria to become a foster parent in Virginia. Knowing what circumstances make you disqualified from the process is equally important. Here is how you can become disqualified from being a foster parent in Virginia:

Did Not Meet the Training or Income Requirements

If you don’t complete the 40-hour mandatory foster parent training process, you are disqualified from the process. Moreover, if you participated in the training process but could not listen to the instructions carefully or make good judgments, you would also be disqualified from being a foster parent. Foster training is an essential part of becoming an excellent foster parent.

You also need to meet the income requirements to become a foster parent. This means you must show the agency you can provide for the foster child without additional state funding. This is done to ensure you have access to a stable source of income sufficient to provide for your family. It also proves you aren’t fostering the child just for the money. Instead, the most successful foster families take in a child due to the goodness of their hearts.

Mentally or Physically Incompetent

The needs of a foster child can be very demanding. They may act out when they first arrive, and they may require a lot of attention and support because of the trauma they have experienced with their birth family or primary caregiver.  You must be able to care for these needs and demands of a foster child with patient support. You can only do so if you are mentally or physically competent. If you have a mental disorder yourself, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to care for a child suffering from emotional care needs.

Unsafe Home Environment

Earlier, we provided you with a checklist of things you would need to have in your home to pass the home visit part of the Home Study. If you cannot equip your home with all the necessary items from the checklist, the inspector will likely deem your home unfit or unsafe. It would be best to discuss all the missing measures with your inspector when possible.

Provided False Information

One of the worst things you can do when applying to become a foster parent in Virginia is to provide social services with false information. This can be anything from false medical statements to false income statements. The department will find out through background checks, references, and other parts of the process. It is best to be honest, straightforward, and transparent.

Criminal Conviction Record

If you or anyone else in your home has a criminal record relating to child abuse, you will become instantly disqualified from the foster care process. The Department of Social Services takes matters of child neglect and abuse very seriously. No matter how far back you may have been convicted for this offense, it stays on your record forever and impacts your chances of being a foster parent.

At the end of the day, only you know whether or not you are fit to be a foster parent. If you truly trust yourself to help a child who needs safety and love, we are almost certain that social services will see your compassion as well. If you still have some reservations about the process and want to get more information, ESP is here to help you every step of the way.

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