What is Foster Care?

Foster care is a temporary arrangement in which adults care for children and youth who are not able to live with their biological parents. When birth parents are unable, unwilling, or unfit to care for a child, foster care provides a safe place for the child to be placed. Foster care is not the same as adoption, and the goal of the foster care system is usually to reunite the child with the birth family. Whereas foster care is temporary, adoption is permanent.

How Does a Child Enter the Foster Care System?

A child enters the foster care system through intervention by the Department of Social Services (DSS) or by law enforcement. Children normally come to the attention of DSS or law enforcement through a report of child abuse, neglect or abandonment.  Upon investigation, if it is determined that a child’s home is unsafe, law enforcement can remove the child on an emergency basis (“Emergency Protective Custody” or “EPC”) or DSS can seek a court order for the removal of the child. If the child is removed by law enforcement through EPC, a family court hearing must be held and DSS must convince the judge that nothing could have been done to allow the child to remain safely in the home.

Sometimes children enter foster care on a non-emergency basis. In these cases, DSS provides the birth family with services while the child remains in the home. If this approach does not resolve concerns about the parent’s ability to care for the child, DSS can seek an order from the family court to place the child in foster care.

Some children enter foster care through the juvenile justice system.

What are the different types of foster care placements?

In general

Foster care placements should promote and expedite a child’s permanency plan, which is usually reunification with the birth parents. Children should be placed in the most stable, most family-like setting in close proximity to the birth family. With limited exceptions, children under the age of six should not be placed in group homes. A child should continue to attend the school where the child was enrolled before entering foster care if at all possible. Reasonable efforts should be made to keep siblings together.  There can be no discrimination in placement due to a child or family’s race, color, national origin, religion, state of residence, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation.

Licensed foster care in private homes

The most common type of foster care is with private citizens (foster parents) who are licensed by the state to provide care for children in their homes. Foster parents must meet certain requirements set by the state to ensure that children will be safe and well-cared for. Foster parents come in all varieties – younger, older, single and married. Some foster parents have their own biological children living in the home, and others have no children or only adult children. Some foster multiple children at a time, and others only foster a single child.

Group Residential Homes

Group residential homes normally work with children whose specific needs are best addressed in a structured environment. Examples include adolescents who have been involved in the juvenile justice system, and children who have mental health or behavioral problems. Sometimes, however, a child is placed in a group residential home simply because there is not an available private foster home for the child or if placement in a group home is otherwise determined to be in the child’s best interests. Residential homes may be operated by public or private agencies and often provide specialized services, such as therapeutic services for children and families, and educational and medical services for children and youth. 

Therapeutic Foster Care

Therapeutic foster care utilizes foster parents with specialized training to care for a wide variety of children and youth, usually those with specialized medical, emotional, behavioral or social needs. It is a clinical intervention, used when traditional foster care cannot accommodate a child’s physical or emotional health needs.

Kinship Care

Kinship care is the care of children by relatives or close family friends. It is different than traditional foster care, because the caregiver relatives do not normally need to be licensed for a child to be placed in their home. Federal law requires DSS to determine if a child can live safely with a relative before placing the child in the relative’s care. The birth parents should be permitted to suggest a relative or close friend who might be able to care for the child and, if DSS determines the home would be safe and appropriate, it should place the child in that home. Kinship caregivers do not receive a foster care board payment unless the caregiver is also a licensed foster parent, although the child will probably receive medical insurance through Medicaid.

See also: Kinship Care in South Carolina

What information will I get when my child enters foster care?

When a child is placed in foster care the birth parents will be notified of the nature and location of the placement, unless there are compelling reasons not to do so. Every child who enters foster care receives an individualized case plan that promotes the child’s safety and physical, social and emotional well-being. The child’s case plan should be focused on alleviating the need for foster care.

A child should be provided with age-appropriate information upon entry into foster care. This information may include the name and phone number of the child’s assigned DSS caseworker and the caseworker’s supervisor.

What information about my child should I give the foster parents?

If your child is placed in foster care, it is helpful for you to share important information with DSS and the foster family. This can include anything that will help your child adjust, such as information about:

  1. Daily routines and special needs
  2. School placement and progress
  3. Required special care
  4. Medical history
  5. Upcoming appointments
  6. Names of doctors
  7. Allergies
  8. Medications
  9. Developmental or behavior problems
  10. Names and contact information of the child’s close friends
  11. Names of family and friends who may be able to help

It is also helpful to let your child take special belongings, such as favorite stuffed animals, clothing and photos.

Will I be able to visit my child while she is in foster care?

If appropriate given the circumstances of the case, a child’s individualized case plan will include a visitation plan intended to help the birth parents stay in touch with their child and help the child return home to a safe environment as soon as possible. The circumstances that brought the child into foster care will determine:

  • The location of visitation
  • The frequency and duration of visitation
  • Whether visitation is supervised or unsupervised

Special Considerations

American Indian Children

If a child facing foster care placement is a member of a federally recognized tribe (or eligible for membership) the DSS caseworker must notify the tribe as soon as possible - but at least 10 days prior to removal from the birth parent’s home. A representative of the tribe must be invited to attend all upcoming court proceedings.

Immigrant Children

A child’s immigration and citizenship status can have a big impact on the child’s permanency options and how a caseworker should approach the case. Factors that may require special consideration include the family’s legal status, cultural issues, language barriers, and the way in which the family interacts with governmental agencies and law enforcement. The DSS caseworker must take care to ensure that the safety and best interests of the child guide the agency’s approach to the case and the decision-making process.

Infants abandoned at Safe Haven

Safe Havens for abandoned infants include hospitals, police stations, fire stations, and worship centers during times when they are staffed. A person who leaves a newborn cannot be prosecuted for abandonment if he or she take the unharmed baby to staff of a Safe Haven. The child will be placed in a foster home, and DSS will immediately pursue family court action to free the child for adoption.