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Foster Care Basics

How do Children Become Eligible for Foster Care?

Elementary school kids sitting
Ensuring the safety and well-being of each child

The child welfare system in Massachusetts, the Department of Children and Families (“DCF”), generally is contacted because of suspected child abuse or neglect and respond by initiating an investigation on the status at the child’s home.  The Commonwealth defines child neglect as “the nonaccidental commission of any act by a caregiver upon a child under age 18 that causes or creates a substantial risk of physical or emotional injury, or constitutes a sexual offense under the laws of the Commonwealth, or any sexual contact between a caregiver and a child under the care of that individual”.

Anyone concerned about a child’s welfare can report their suspicions of child abuse or neglect.  However, there are “mandatory reporters” - people who are required by state law to report suspicions of child abuse and neglect such as teachers, doctors, day care workers and the like – who report the majority of instances of suspected maltreatment.

Reports are most often received by DCF workers and are evaluated for their validity by being either “screened in” or “screened out.”  Investigations either result in determining that there is sufficient information to validate maltreatment and is therefore “screened in”.  If there is not enough support to such an allegation, reports are “screened out” of the DCF purview.  This can result in referrals to other community resources to work with the families but will not result in foster care placement.

How Long do Children Remain in the Foster Care System?

Mother and daughter
Foster families are expected to provide a safe home
that supports the childs needs

The duration of a child’s placement in foster care is different in each instance.  Some children stay with a foster family for a day, a few days, or for several years.  Other children move from foster placement between different homes.  Reports cite the average length of time in foster care placement at close to two years.

How are Siblings Handled in Foster Care Placement?

If at all possible, every attempt is made to keep brother(s) and sister(s) together in a single home when entering the foster care system.  There are circumstances when the children are placed into different homes when no single home is available for the siblings.  Foster families are allowed to indicate whether they are willing to have multiple children, but this is by far the minority of foster placements. 

What are the Expectations of the Foster Family?

Families willing to take in a child who has been removed from their home are expected to provide a safe environment that supports the child’s needs after suspicions of neglect or abuse at their prior residence.  The goal of foster care placement is to remove a child from an unsafe environment and provide a safe home.  This allows the birth parents to increase their capability to care for their own child and develop a nurturing and safe home for them to return to as appropriate. 

Who can become a Foster Parent?

There are no specific requirements for becoming a foster parent, although training is required prior to become eligible for this privilege.  This status requires a good deal of flexibility, a willingness to learn about the child and their history, but primarily allow a commitment to provide a safe, stable, nurturing and loving home for a child.  Anyone, regardless of marital status, is allowed to care for children in the foster care system.  Housing for children assigned to a foster family can be available in either rental or owned situations, in urban or suburban settings.  No minimum financial income requirements are set for foster families. However, assumptions are made that foster families are able to support themselves independently to enable them to provide adequately for the child place with them.  Most foster parents work outside the home, but childcare arrangements need to be coordinated for foster children during the working day until they are in school.

Starting January 2021, Massachusetts foster parents will be eligible for paid timed off for up to 12 weeks at the time of placement, under the extended federal Family Medical Leave Act. This extension gives foster parents time to better get to know and bond with their child. More information can be found on this page.

Is it Expensive to become a Foster Parent?

While providing foster care housing, the child’s health and dental coverage is provided by the State.  Foster families are paid a monthly stipend for supporting a child.  If there are special needs required for children in foster care such as mental health, developmental evaluations or the like, enhanced coverage and/or payments may be made available and coordinated through the social worker assigned through DCF.