Children are sometimes temporarily placed in foster care because their parents are not able to give them the care that they need. Foster family care provides a safe, loving home for children until they can be reunited with their families.
Do you want to make a positive impact in the life of a New Hampshire child? New Hampshire needs more foster families in every community, especially for siblings and teens. Foster care keeps kids safe, helps families heal, and provides a path to family reunification. Keeping kids in their own communities helps them stay connected to their parents and relatives, their schools, and other settings most familiar to them. Can you help support a family where you live?
What is Foster Family Care?
The New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth, & Families (DCYF) investigates allegations of child abuse and neglect. If the assessment indicates a child's safety is at risk, DCYF petitions the court to have the child removed from their family and placed in a safe, caring, temporary environment. The child may move to a relative's home or a foster home.
There are several types of foster family care. Some are administered by the public agency, DCYF, while private child placing agencies administers others. Basic foster family care is called General Care, and there are also other types of credentials that a licensed foster parent can qualify for including Specialized, Emergency and Crisis. Independent Service Option (ISO) and Therapeutic Foster Care are both clinical based and provide intensive levels of services to youth. Both are administered by private child placing agencies throughout NH.
Foster families provide homes for children whose families are unable to care for them. Every effort is made to help the child remain with his or her family. Foster parents are asked to provide a supportive atmosphere while the biological parents, agency staff, and foster parents work on individual and family issues.
The temporary and complex nature of foster care places special demands on foster parents. They are asked to take someone else’s child into their home, care for the child, and treat the child as a member of their family. The Foster Care Program provides the necessary support and training to enable foster parents to provide daily care and supervision for the child in care.
Who are the children?
The children in foster care come from family situations where they have experienced either neglect or sexual, emotional or physical abuse. They range in age from birth to age 18. Some of the youth are children in need of supervision or are delinquent youth. Domestic violence, substance abuse and mental illness may be a part of the family's history. Children involved with foster care and adoption usually attend the local public school and most children need the opportunity to participate in normal childhood activities in the community.
In New Hampshire, there are approximately 900 children served in foster family care in a given year.
Do foster parents supervise visits with birth families and the children
Most birth parents start out with supervised visits with their child. The Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) provides services through outside agencies who assign a Child Health Support Aid or Parent Aid. The parent aid role is to supervise the visit for safety and model or coach parenting skills. A parent aid can transport the children, supervise the visits, and report how the visits went to DCYF. Foster parents also assist with transporting children to visits. Foster parents should attend medical appointments, school meetings, and therapy sessions with the children. Parents should be present for these types of meetings and appointments as well. For some of these appointments and meetings, DCYF staff may attend and a parent aid may not be needed. Over time, foster parents may feel comfortable supervising visits and may do so with approval from the team.
How frequent are family time visits?
All family visits are determined by DCYF and by court order. Every case is different so each case will have a different visitation schedule. DCYF will consider your schedule, as well as the parents’ and supportive services, such as the parent aide. Newborn and infant visitation will be frequent to help develop and sustain the parent/child bond. On average, children visit their parents two to three times per week. As a case gets closer to reunification, visits may increase. If the case is heading toward a different permanency outcome such as termination of parental rights, the visits may slow down.
What do foster parents do when a birth parent seems angry with them
A parent can be angry at the system, the situation and often, themselves. They are usually not angry with the foster family but their anger can be directed that way. Some parents are afraid of their children being placed with "strangers." The foster parent needs to be compassionate, respectful and non-judgmental when they first interact with the parent - even if the other person presents as angry. We must work together to reassure the parents that their child will be safe and you are there to support them to reunify their family. The message needs to be that foster parents are not here to "steal" their children; they are here to provide a service and support. If you ever feel uncomfortable in a situation due to someone else’s comments or actions, you have the right to leave or politely end the conversation. DCYF does not want a foster family to be in harm’s way or feel that you have to endure harassment by anyone. Please discuss each situation with the caseworker.
What happens if a parent cannot be located?
DCYF will make diligent efforts to search for and locate both parents and relatives for a child throughout the case. It is rare that no family can be located for a child.
How long does DCYF stay involved with a family after reunification?
Each situation is unique and that decision is up to the child’s team and Court. Most families continue to receive services for several months after a child is returned to a parent’s care.
If a child returns to foster care after they were reunified, does the parent’s case start over again?
If the Court closed the family’s case, then yes, it would be a new case with a new plan and timeline.
After children reunify with their parents, can foster families have contact with them?
Yes, though any contact would be at the discretion of the parent, relative or guardian of the child. If a good relationship was built during the child’s placement with you, a parent or relative may feel comfortable allowing you to stay involved. Many foster families continue to support children by including the family in events, offering respite or babysitting and being a supportive connection to the parents or relative.
Do birth parents still get visitation after the children are adopted?
All contact would be at the discretion of the adopted family. It usually is in the best interest of the children to maintain some contact with their birth family (parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins etc.) if it is a healthy and safe to do so. If families enter into a mediated adoption agreement, then both families would outline in a legal agreement what will be allowed for contact. Examples are phone calls, letters, pictures, notification if a life-threatening condition arises, private Facebook groups for updates and pictures. All contact will still be at the adoptive parents’ discretion. If there is an issue with the agreement post-adoption, the families need to return to court and resolve this on their own, as there will no longer be a DCYF case
Will foster families who previously fostered a child be asked to foster them again if the children come back into care?
Yes, whenever it is possible and safe to do so, and if the foster family agrees. Foster families can let the caseworker know that they would like to be considered if the children happen to need a placement again in the future.
Will my own children be impacted by bringing in foster children into my home?
Yes, your own children will be affected by your decision to provide foster care to children in need. Your own children might do beautifully with children in care or they might have a hard time. They will be sharing you and your attention with a child who may not behave as they do. Children in care will not respond the same as children you have parented from birth. You may have to use different tactics and strategies, which may be perceived by your birth children as unfair. It important that you prepare your children for this and preemptively plant the seed that it would be ‘unfair’ to treat everyone the same when some kids may need different support to feel safe. Other foster children or even adopted children may feel like you are trying to replace them or that they are not good enough. They may have many feelings of uncertainty and difficulty adjusting to another child in the home. All children entering foster care have experienced trauma. Foster families might be excited to have children placed with them, but birth children may not feel the same excitement. Try to give them the space they need while gently being supportive.
Will the birth parents know where I live?
The NH Foster Parent Bill of Rights, found in NH RSA 170-E:52 II, states that DHHS shall consult with the foster parent prior to the release of the foster parent's address, phone number, or other personally identifying information to the child's parent or guardian. Staff should not give out your contact information or address to families without your permission. Foster parents can let the parent have that when they are comfortable. Many parents find out eventually on their own through conversation, the internet, or through the children. If DCYF determines that the child or the foster family would be in danger if their location were known to the parents, steps will be taken to create a safety plan.
Are visits going to happen in my home?
Visits typically start out at a neutral place or agency office. Toward the end of a case, children will be able to visit with parents in their own home. This is to make sure that they transition well. Sometimes these are partially supervised though they move to nonsupervised. At any point in time, a foster parent can supervise visits and have the parent visit in the foster home. Some foster parents insist on this and involve the parent in normal routines, bathing, dinners going to bed. This is dependent on the relationship between the parents and the comfort level of the foster family.
How soon will I get foster children?
That all depends on whom you are willing to serve. DCYF needs foster families who are open to serving a large range of ages, numbers and behaviors. We are having difficulty finding families who will serve “older” school age children and who can accommodate sibling groups. Your past experience and comfort level is also considered. If you are willing to serve any age child, and are, comfortable with caring for children we may not have all the information about, you could find yourself being asked to serve very quickly. The more selective you are with who can be placed in your home, the longer your wait can be. If you are becoming licensed to serve a specific child in need or a relative child, you might already have that child placed in your home.
Do I have to accept every child that I am called about?
No, you do not need to accept every child you are asked to serve. Caregiver Coordinators will try hard to respect the guidelines you have in place for your family about ages, genders and behaviors but may call you if a child is slightly outside those parameters. If your home life is busy or you have plans, you can say no. If you need some down time or you have recently adopted a child and need some time to adjust, you can say no. We hope that you will consider each request carefully to ensure a request for a child placement is right for you and your family.
If I say no, will you call again?
Yes, you are still eligible to serve and you will be called again when a child meeting your criteria needs care or when you feel more ready to serve again.
Do I have a say in what kind of child I want?
Yes, this will be discussed at length during your interviews and noted in your home study recommendations. This can be revisited at any time with your Caregiver Coordinator.
How long will the children stay?
Each case and situation is unique so this is hard to answer. Children can stay in foster care for as little as one day, one month or for several years. It takes approximately 12 to 15 months for the average case to reach a permanency decision but children can be reunified whenever the concerns in the family have been resolved.
Can I take the foster children on vacation?
Yes, and we encourage that, depending on where you are traveling. We want children to be part of your family. For shorter trips within New England, foster families should plan to bring the children in their care with them. Unless prior arrangements have been made, children must not miss any visits with their parents. For longer trips or those outside of New England, additional permission is required. You will learn more about this in the training on the Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standards (RPPS).
Can I leave the foster children with a babysitter?
Yes, you will learn more about this in the training on RPPS.
Do the foster children see their parents if they are in jail?
Yes, unless there is a court order prohibiting this.
Do we have to take the foster children to the jail?
That is dependent on you. This decision would be discussed thoroughly with the child’s case manager and many factors are considered.
What happens if a child does not want to visit their parents?
Most children want very much to see their parents no matter the reason they are in care. For some who have been badly abused, they may be fearful and hurt. There are times when a Court will not allow visitation. Visits can be hard on children emotionally. They may be overly excited or anxious before and after. It is hard for them to grasp everything that is going on and they have no control over it. A foster parent can never take away a child’s visit with their parent. If the child is refusing to attend, the worker and team should be notified right away and a plan will be discussed.
Can I home school?
No, children in foster care must be connected with the public school system.
How do I get the children into school?
Whenever possible, children in care should remain in their home school district. There is a process for the school and DCYF to determine the best educational plan for the child. A Best Interest Determination (BID) meeting will be held following the placement. If it is determined that he child should enter your school district, you may enroll them immediately following the BID meeting. The child’s worker will assist you
Can the child go to my doctors?
Whenever possible, children should remain connected to their own medical and dental providers. If the distance is great or if there were no assigned providers, you can ask if the child can use providers with whom you are familiar. Parents should always be invited to all medical appointments and parental permission is required for any medical treatment.
Can I take the children to my church?
With the permission of their parents. If the child is already connected to another church or faith, efforts need to be made to continue their participation. If they do not, then you can ask. Unless there is a restriction in place for safety, you may also want to consider inviting the birth parent to church with you.
Are the children allowed to use the internet or have a cell phone?
Yes, depending on the age and maturity of the child, safety concerns and court orders. You will learn more about this in RPPS. We want all children in care to experience as much “normalcy” as they can.
Why do you need to know so much about my family and me?
When DCYF needs to remove a child from their parents and place them in a foster home, we must ensure that we are placing the child in a safe and nurturing setting where they will not experience any further harm. We need to make the best match possible for both the child and the foster family. Children entering care have been traumatized from the situation in their home and the removal itself adds more trauma. Through record checks and inspections, we can determine if your family and home are safe. Only through learning your story will we know if we are making a good match between a child and your family.
Why are relatives preferred for placement?
National research and NH statistics show that children have more placement stability when they are in relative care. It is less traumatic for children to be placed with familiar people in a familiar setting. Most often, the relatives know the family story of the parent and can provide ongoing connection to the extended family, a sense of family culture and belonging. Some relatives are wary to provide temporary care or are not in a position to do so when they are asked. Just like foster families, they also have to consider many factors when making their decision. DCYF is obligated to search for appropriate and available relatives from the time of removal and throughout the case for both placement and permanency. This can be very hard for a foster family - especially those already hoping to adopt.
Why is reunification always the first goal when I hear about so many adoptions?
Reunification is always the primary permanency goal for children when they enter foster care. Through the help and grace of foster parents, we provide a temporary safe and nurturing setting while we work with the parent to restore or build their ability to parent their own children. Each case is unique and some situations are easier to address than others. Substance abuse, mental health and mental illness, cognitive and development concerns can complicate this work. No matter the challenges, every parent is afforded the opportunity, services and support to address the concerns that brought their family to the attention of DCYF, and be reunified with their children. Reunification is hard work for everyone involved. It can also be incredible work and a reason to celebrate when you have been part of restoring a family. If you have been able to develop a respectful working relationship with the parents, you may still be able to support the child and their parents. Not everyone can do this but it is beautiful when it happens.
So here is the tricky part - when you are open to fostering but also hope to adopt you need to know that DCYF is obligated to always have a concurrent plan for children if reunification does not work out. It is not fair to children to just work on reunification for 12 to 15 months and then start to figure out a new plan if it does not. This is what happened to children in the past, when their time in care without belonging to a permanent family was extended for far too long. Children deserve permanency.
Case plans must include a concurrent plan early on, which is most often adoption. Be prepared to be asked, if you are willing to consider adoption of the child in your care and be prepared for that child to also be reunified. We are hopeful that you will say yes to both. We know this puts you in a difficult position - especially emotionally.