The Ultimate Guide to Fostering in North Carolina

Foster parent helping middle school girl with homework

Kids across North Carolina are waiting for someone like you — someone selfless enough to offer unabiding compassion through hard times.

Opening your heart and home to a foster child is one of the most generous acts a person can make.

But it is normal for prospective foster parents to feel hesitant. At this stage, having lots of questions shows that you are thinking critically about a life-changing decision. The goal of this comprehensive guide is to address your concerns while providing a detailed look into what fostering a child involves.

We will answer tough questions — questions you may be too afraid to ask, including:

  • How is fostering a teenager different from fostering a younger child?
  • What behavioral issues are prevalent among foster children?
  • Am I cut out to be a foster parent?

Providing a child with unconditional love is not always easy. But we hope after reading this guide, you realize the strength of your support system. No matter what happens during the foster care journey, members of your community and foster care agency will be there to help.

Jump Ahead

Foster care is a temporary living arrangement for children whose parents or guardians can no longer offer adequate support. Many children enter a foster home after being abused, neglected, or orphaned.

When children enter foster care, the primary goal is to provide a stable, nurturing environment while the child’s guardians work with social workers to resolve their challenges. The hope is that families will receive the support needed to heal, and that kids will be reunited with their parents.

However, reunification is not always possible. For every three children who return home, two remain in the foster care system¹.

When reunification cannot be achieved, other options are explored. These options include permanent placement with a biological family member (e.g. aunt or uncle, grandparent, cousin) or placement with an adoptive family.

The majority of individuals in foster care are school-aged children or sibling groups who have been temporarily placed in the custody of the Department of Social Services because of safety issues. These issues include:

  • Abandonment: Abandonment occurs when a parent or guardian deserts a child without regard for their welfare. The parent may, for example, leave the child at home alone for a period of time that creates substantial risk.
  • Death: After the death of a child’s parent, family members typically step forward. But there are cases where a biological relative is not available or cannot provide suitable care.
  • Incarceration: A child may be removed from their home when there are no relatives available to provide care during a parent’s incarceration in prison or jail.
  • Juvenile Offenses: A child who has committed a juvenile offense may be placed in foster care, especially if the court decides that the home environment is contributing to the behavior.
  • Medical Neglect: Medical neglect occurs when children are harmed or placed at significant risk because of their parents’ decision not to seek medical care.
  • Physical Abuse: In cases of physical abuse, a parent or guardian intentionally commits an act that causes bodily harm. Examples include burning, biting, or kicking the child.
  • Sexual Abuse: Sexual abuse is a form of maltreatment in which an adult uses a child for sexual stimulation. This includes inappropriate contact as well as exposing the child to pornographic content.
  • Emotional Abuse: Though less obvious than physical or sexual maltreatment, emotional abuse can be just as damaging. This form of abuse is typified by patterns of behavior that impact the child’s emotional development. Examples include shaming and teasing.
  • Truancy: Truancy is any intentional or unjustified absence from compulsory education. Since a parent is responsible for ensuring their child attends school regularly, the court could remove the child because of absenteeism.
  • Voluntary Placement: In rare situations, parents request for their children to be placed in foster care. This often occurs because of a parent or child’s mental health issues or medical conditions.

Fostering a child means taking a child into your family and making them feel valued. It means providing a safe, nurturing environment where that child can grow into themselves.

Other responsibilities of foster parenting include:

  • Helping a child pursue their hobbies and academic interests
  • Promoting a child’s mental, physical, emotional, and social development
  • Setting a good example for the child
  • Providing access to any necessary support, including therapy and medical care
  • Being an advocate for the child

Types of Foster Care

In the State of North Carolina, foster parents can offer two types of care: therapeutic and traditional.

  • Therapeutic Foster Care: This support is designed for children who have intensive behavioral or mental health needs. In a therapeutic environment, foster parents provide 24/7 care and supervision.
  • Traditional Foster Care: In a traditional foster care setting, children still receive support. However, the living environment is often less structured.

Though foster parenting is undoubtedly challenging, it is one of the most rewarding duties there is. As a foster parent, you have the opportunity to make a lasting change — both in a child’s life but also in your own.

The Benefits for Foster Children

  • A healthy, encouraging home environment
  • Access to needed resources like medical care and therapy
  • Mental stability needed to mature and develop executive functioning skills
  • The chance to nurture trusting relationships with adults
  • For some children, an escape from maltreatment and neglect
  • Enrichment activities like tutoring and summer camp, provided through generous donor support at Children’s Hope Alliance
  • Depending on the circumstances, a continued connection with siblings and other family members
  • An opportunity to break the cyclical nature of abuse and neglect

The Benefits for Foster Parents

  • The ability to make a positive influence in a child’s life
  • An opportunity for your family to serve others
  • A greater understanding of yourself and, if you are married, of your spouse
  • If you are religious, developing a greater spiritual connection
  • A chance to put your values into motion
  • Depending on the circumstances, the chance to help a teen transition into adulthood

Foster parents come from all walks of life.

If you want to provide a child with much-needed love and support, you can:

  • Be singled, married, or in an unmarried relationship
  • Own a home or rent
  • Be any religion, national origin, race, color, sex, gender, or sexual orientation
  • Be any socioeconomic class (though, you must be financially stable)
  • Have parenting experience or none at all
  • Already have children in your home or not

Though diversity is welcomed, foster care agencies do look for certain values and personality traits in prospective foster care parents. These include:

Patience and understanding

After enduring years of abuse and neglect, many children have behavioral and emotional issues. Foster parents must have the patience to meet children where they are at.


Foster parents should be welcoming to all children regardless of race, color, ancestry, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, age, citizenship, disability, or gender identity. The ability to create a safe space is key.

The willingness to grow from past experiences

Many people think they have to be perfect to be a perfect parent. But this simply is not the case. To be a great foster parent, you simply need to be willing to learn from your mistakes.

A sense of humor

Though it is important to take children with past trauma seriously, you don’t always have to take yourself seriously. Sometimes the best way to cope with a stressful situation is with humor.

A genuine desire to help

The best foster care parents feel called to this life-changing responsibility and are passionate about helping children reach their full potential.

In North Carolina, eligible foster parents must:

  • Be 21+ years old
  • Provide a stable, drug-free home
  • Have a reliable income
  • Be open to a criminal records check and being fingerprinted
  • Complete training required by the state
  • Be licensed by the state of North Carolina

Deciding to be a foster parent is one of the most life-changing decisions you will ever make.

With that in mind, you need to take time to learn as much as possible about what this responsibility will entail. Do online research. Speak with current foster parents. Consult a foster care agency like Children’s Hope Alliance.

You should also take the time to reflect on who you are as a person and how this commitment would change your family dynamic. Asking yourself these questions can help:

Do I have a strong support system?

Fostering a child can be very stressful at times. Though your close friends and relatives may be willing to listen to your trials and tribulations, they may not quite understand what you are going through. Fortunately, many private foster care agencies host support groups so that foster parents can connect.

Am I prepared for any behavioral issues the child may have?

It is very common for foster care children to exhibit challenging behaviors. But as a foster parent, you must be willing to remain calm in the face of mood swings, angry outbursts, and everything in between.

Is my family OK with having foster care children in their home?

If you are married or have children, the decision to foster is not yours alone. Before you begin this journey, you must take the time to educate your spouse and/or kids about what fostering will entail. If not everyone is on board, it may not be a good fit.

Am I willing to have social workers regularly in my home?

Can you develop and maintain relationships with social workers, case managers, and other professionals? This requires open and honest communication as well as flexibility.

Can I say goodbye?

Foster care is not a permanent solution. Though attachment is a good thing, both for you and the child, they will eventually move on. When this happens, will you be able to cope with the loss?

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about foster parenting. These misconceptions can discourage prospective foster parents from opening their hearts and home, which is why the foster care team at Children’s Hope Alliance is committing to debunking these myths.

Fostering is a financial strain.

Fact: In the state of North Carolina, foster parents receive monthly stipends to help cover expenses like food, clothing, housing, daycare, and school supplies.

All foster children are bad.

Fact: One of the most damaging misconceptions is that foster children are in need of a home because they are “bad,” aggressive, or violent. This simply is not true.

Most children in foster care are the victims of unfortunate situations. Their parents may have passed away, be suffering from a substance use disorder, or have a history of abuse. Though these circumstances can cause emotional trauma, a safe and nurturing foster home can help children heal.

All foster children have been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused.

Fact: Though many foster children are the victims of abuse, most have been neglected. Neglect occurs when a parent fails to provide adequate care, such as proper clothing, sufficient food, or emotional support.

You have to be young to foster children.

Fact: In the state of North Carolina, you must be at least 21 years or older to foster a child. However, there is no age limit. Plenty of older individuals find meaning by fostering children in retirement.

You have to be married to foster children.

Fact: You can be single, partnered, married, divorced or widowed and still foster a child.

Foster parents are only heterosexual couples.

Fact: All prospective foster parents are welcome to apply, regardless of sex, gender, or sexual orientation.

I need to be a homeowner.

Fact: Though you do need to provide a safe and stable environment, you don’t need to own your home or make a certain amount of income to become a foster parent.

I can’t work full-time and be a foster parent.

Fact: Though some foster parents are stay-at-home moms and dads, most aren’t. Just like birth parents, foster parents juggle the responsibilities of work and childcare.

Foster parents must pay for a child’s medical insurance.

Fact: Medicaid covers medical expenses for foster children.

I will get too attached to the child and not be able to let him or her go.

Fact: Though saying goodbye to your foster child can be hard, love means doing what’s best for another person. In most cases, the best thing for a foster child is to return to their birth parents after they have addressed their specific problems.

There are many different nonprofit agencies and government organizations involved in North Carolina’s foster care system. At a minimum, this multifaceted team includes:

The Licensing Authority

The licensing authority for foster homes in North Carolina is the Division of Social Services (DSS), which falls under the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

DSS receives applications for foster care licenses through public and private child-placing agencies, also called “Supervising Agencies.”

Supervising Agencies

Supervising agencies are public and private organizations that recruit, train, and support North Carolina foster parents.

The Department of Children’s Services is a state-run supervising agency that connects foster parents to children from their immediate community, such as their county. Comparatively, Children’s Hope Alliance is an example of a private supervising agency.

County Child Welfare Agencies

Every North Carolina county has a DSS agency that delivers child welfare services through Child Protective Services (CPS).

CPS is tasked with receiving and screening reports of suspected child abuse and neglect and seeking court action to protect children when necessary.

Other Government Organizations

As a foster parent, you may also interact with the:

  • Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services (DMH/DD/SAS), which provides support for individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. This division also offers services for individuals with mental illness and substance abuse disorders.
  • Division of Health Benefits (DHB), which is responsible for administering Medicaid.
  • N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI), which oversees the public school system.
  • N.C. Department of Public Safety Juvenile Justice (DPS/JJ), which provides intake and supervision services for delinquent juveniles.

North Carolina law requires that all foster parents become licensed. This seven-step licensing process takes approximately six months to complete.

  1. Step One: Begin Your Research
  2. Step Two: Attend an Information Session
  3. Step Three: Nurture a Relationship with Your Agency
  4. Step Four: Receiving Training
  5. Step Five: Complete a Mutual Home Assessment (MHA)
  6. Step Six: Submit Your Licensing Application
  7. Step Seven: Begin Making a Difference in a Child’s Life

Step One: Begin Your Research

Start by learning more about the experience of being a foster parent. You can browse websites, read books, watch videos, and even connect with current foster parents.

Step Two: Attend an Information Session

Foster care agencies like Children’s Hope Alliance regularly host information sessions for prospective foster parents. During these sessions, staff are available to address any concerns you may have about opening your heart and home to a foster child.

Step Three: Nurture a Relationship with Your Agency

After attending an information session, an agency like Children’s Hope Alliance can help you complete your foster parent licensure. Our team is here to offer the reassurance and guidance you need to foster with confidence.

Step Four: Receive Training

In North Carolina, prospective foster parents must complete TIPS-MAPP (Trauma Informed Partnering for Safety and Permanence — Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) or an equivalent training and assessment process. Your agency will provide this 30+ hour training.

Step Five: Complete a Mutual Home Assessment (MHA)

To receive licensure in North Carolina, you must complete a mutual home assessment. During the MHA, a licensing worker from your foster care agency will inspect your home to ensure that it is safe for children. The licensing worker will also learn more about your family so that they can make effective placements.

Step Six: Submit Your Licensing Application

Your agency will work with you to complete the Foster Home License Application and submit it to DSS. (Note: You will need to apply for relicensure every two years.)

Step Seven: Begin Making a Difference in a Child’s Life

If your Foster Home Application is approved, you can begin welcoming foster children into your home! In doing so, you will be helping children heal from past traumas and grow into happy, healthy young adults.

The prospect of fostering can easily feel overwhelming. Luckily, you are not alone.

Throughout the foster care journey, your foster care agency will provide individualized, one-on-one support. No matter if you have questions about required licensure training or potty training, your foster care agency will be there.

That being said, it is critical that you partner with an agency you can trust.

Types of Foster Care Agencies

In North Carolina, there are two primary entities through which you can foster.

You can choose to foster through the Department of Children’s Services, which is a state-run supervising agency that connects foster parents to children from their immediate community, such as their county.

Or, you can foster through a private agency like Children’s Hope Alliance.

What Support Services To Look For

Many prospective foster parents default to the foster care agency closest to them. And while location is important, it is even more important that the agency provides the type of support you need.

Common support services included:

  • 24/7 Family Support: The best agencies have dedicated staff who are available all hours of the day, every day of the week, to answer questions you may have about positive parenting, addressing behavioral or mental health issues, coping with grief, and more.
  • Ongoing Training: In North Carolina, foster parents are legally required to complete training before receiving licensure. Find an agency that offers this training, as well as other classes and support groups.
  • Help With Expenses: Foster parents are typically offered a monthly stipend and medical/dental care through the state. However, some foster care agencies provide assistance with other child-related expenses like back-to-school supplies and holiday gifts.
  • Respite Care: Being a foster parent is no easy undertaking, which is why respite care can be helpful. Respite care gives foster parents a break for a night or weekend. Depending on your needs, you may be interested in finding an agency that offers this service.
  • Therapy: Some foster care agencies provide individual, group, and family therapy to help children, birth parents, and foster parents heal in the wake of trauma.

Other Factors To Consider

When comparing different foster care agencies, you also want to evaluate:

  • Responsiveness: How quickly did they return phone calls or emails? Were they kind and helpful?
  • Open Communication: Does the foster care agency attempt to sugarcoat the challenges of fostering? Or are they open and honest?
  • Reputation: What is the agency’s reputation in the community? Do they have a long history of supporting children and families?
  • Tolerance and Diversity: Does the foster care agency work with foster parents of color? Do they work with same-sex couples?

Use this worksheet to jot down notes as you interact with different agencies, either through agency tours, information sessions, or phone calls and emails.

(5 = Excellent, 1 = Poor)
24/7 Family Support
Ongoing Training
Help With Expenses
Respite Care
Open Communication
Tolerance and Diversity

The mutual home assessment (MHA) is the key document in the foster home licensing process. The purpose of the MHA is to determine whether the home meets requirements and to learn more about the family to make effective placement decisions. Over the course of several face-to-face visits, the MHA is completed by a licensing worker from the agency you choose.

The MHA includes five components:

  1. Part One: Family History on Each Applicant
  2. Part Two: Assessment of the 12 Skills of Foster Parenting
  3. Part Three: Assessment of the Home
  4. Part Four: Assessment of the Applicant’s Ability To Participate in Shared Parenting
  5. Part Five: Assessment of the Applicant’s Financial Ability To Provide Foster Care

Part One: Family History on Each Applicant

A family history must be recorded for each applicant. This family history must cover elements including:

  • Parentage: Your licensing worker will offer a description of your parents, from their first marriage to their present situation, and how those relationships may impact your ability to foster.
  • Siblings: The application will list your siblings, providing gender, date of birth, where they reside, their marital status, how many children they have, and their relationship with you.
  • Family Support Systems: More information will be offered regarding how your family is supported during times of crisis.
  • Parents’ Method of Discipline: The licensing worker will offer a description of how you were disciplined as a child and how those experiences impact your parenting style.
  • Experience With Child Abuse, Neglect, and Domestic Violence: Individuals who have unresolved issues related to abuse, neglect, or domestic violence may find it difficult to support a foster child. Because of this, the licensing worker will inquire about your experiences with trauma.
  • Ability To Cope: The licensing worker will ask you to describe at least one major problem you have faced and subsequently solved.
  • Stresses and Frustrations: You must describe the stresses and frustrations you experience on a daily basis and how you cope with them.
  • Crises and Loss: You must describe a time of crisis (e.g. the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or home) and how you managed your emotions.
  • Criminal History: The application must list all minor and major infractions.
  • Experience With Alcohol or Drug Abuse: You must offer a description of your past and current experiences with alcohol, recreational drugs, and prescribed medications.
  • Educational and Employment History: The licensing worker will list your diplomas, degrees, and certifications. They will also list each job you have held, with beginning and end dates.
  • Religious Orientation: A religious orientation is not required for licensure. However, your licensing worker will ask questions about how you plan to accommodate children who celebrate other faiths or who do not want to attend religious services.
  • Marriages: You must list all of your marriages or significant relationships. If any ended in divorce, you must describe any unresolved issues that may impact your ability to foster.
  • Parenting Experiences: Your application must offer insight into your parenting style, what you have learned from parenting your own children, and what you hope to work on. If you do not have children of your own, your licensing worker will describe relevant experiences (e.g. important relationships with nieces and nephews, volunteer work with Big Brother/Big Sisters).
  • Emotional Stability and Maturity: In this section, the licensing worker will offer any observations regarding your character. Are you subject to mood swings? Do you make impulsive decisions? Are you aware of your feelings?
  • Ability To Give and Receive Affection: The licensing worker will also offer observations regarding how you show physical affection. For example, the licensing worker may note that you and your wife held hands during a visit. Or, that you gave your daughter a hug.

Part Two: Assessment of the 12 Skills of Foster Parenting

The second part of the MHA is a description of how well you use each of the 12 skills of foster parenting. These skills include:

  1. Assessing individual and family strengths and needs
  2. Using and developing effective communication
  3. Identifying the strengths and needs of children placed in the home
  4. Building on children’s strengths and meeting the needs of children placed in the home
  5. Developing partnerships with children placed in the home, birth parents, the supervising agency, and the community
  6. Helping children placed in the home develop skills to manage loss and skills to form attachments
  7. Helping children placed in the home manage their behaviors
  8. Helping children placed in the home maintain and develop relationships that will keep them connected to their pasts
  9. Helping children placed in the home build on positive self-concept and positive family, cultural, and racial identity
  10. Providing a safe and healthy environment for children placed in the home
  11. Assessing the ways in which providing family foster care or therapeutic foster care affects the family
  12. Making an informed decision regarding providing family foster care or therapeutic foster care

Part Three: Assessment of the Home

The licensing worker will also walk through your home to make sure it is safe and clean. During this walk-through, they will complete the Foster Home Environmental Conditions Report. This report evaluates factors like:

  • If explosive materials, ammunition, and firearms are stored in separate locked places
  • If the home and yard are maintained, repaired, and not hazardous to children
  • If the house is free of rodents and insects
  • If the kitchen is equipped with an operable stove, refrigerator, and running water
  • If there are sufficient eating, cooking, and drinking utensils to accommodate the number of household members
  • If household equipment and furniture are in good repair
  • If flammable and poisonous substances, medications, and cleaning materials are kept out of reach of children
  • If the home has the heating, air cooling, or ventilating capability to maintain comfortable temperatures (between 65° and 85° Fahrenheit)
  • If there are sanitary toileting and bathing facilities

Part Four: Assessment of the Applicant’s Ability To Participate in Shared Parenting

Foster parents are often expected to help foster children maintain relationships with their birth parents. This arrangement is known as shared parenting.

Shared parenting can be challenging, especially if the child has a history of abuse and neglect. Foster parents may struggle to understand birth parents and may have strong opinions about their parenting style.

During this part of the MHA, the licensing worker will assess the applicant’s ability to participate in shared parenting requirements. Licensing workers are encouraged to use the applicant’s words as much as possible.

For example, if the prospective foster parent makes a comment about trying to include birth parents in family dinners, this would be noted.

Part Five: Assessment of the Applicant’s Financial Ability To Provide Foster Care

There are no financial requirements to be a foster parent. However, you must be able to provide a child with a stable and secure environment. In other words, your income must cover expenses.

In this section, the licensing worker will list all forms of income. They will also list any major expenses, from mortgages to credit card bills.

During the MHA, a licensing worker from your foster care agency will be making face-to-face visits to ensure that you, your family, and your home are prepared for the responsibilities of fostering.

This process can feel tedious at best and invasive at worst. Luckily, a bit of planning can make the MHA significantly less stressful.

Documents To Compile

You will need to secure:

  • Background Checks: DSS must be made aware of all minor and major infractions for all applicants and adult household members.
  • Medical and Mental Health Clearance: Applicants and all household members must receive a medical evaluation from a licensed medical provider. This evaluation provides evidence that there are no physical or mental health issues that would compromise the foster parent’s ability to provide care.

You may also need copies of:

  • Driver licenses of all adults living in your home
  • Birth certificates of all individuals living in your home
  • Marriage certificates
  • Divorce decrees
  • Verification of employment
  • Military discharges
  • Latest income tax return
  • Reference letters
  • Proof of insurance (e.g. home, health, auto, life)
  • Pet vaccination records

Documents To Sign

You must sign a Discipline Agreement before receiving licensure. With this document, you agree that foster children placed in your care will:

  • Be provided training and discipline that is appropriate for the child’s age, intelligence, emotional makeup, and past experience
  • Not be subjected to cruel or abusive punishment
  • Not be subjected to corporal punishment
  • Not be deprived of a meal or contact with family for punishment
  • Not be placed in isolation
  • Not be subjected to verbal abuse, threats, or humiliating remarks about himself/herself or his/her families

Training To Complete

To receive licensure, you must complete the following training:

  • 30 hours of pre-service for family foster care
  • 40 hours of pre-service for therapeutic foster care
  • CPR, First Aid, Universal Precautions
  • Medication Administration
  • Physical Restraints (if used)
  • 10 hours of in-service training annually

How To Prepare Your Home

To receive licensure, the licensing worker must deem your home a safe and clean environment.

However, just because your property seems neat and tidy, does not mean it is child-ready.

Before the MHA, you must:

  • Request a fire inspection by the city or county fire inspector
  • Child-proof your home (e.g. place guns and ammunition in a gun safe, store chemicals out of a child’s reach, build fences around swimming pools and other bodies of water)
  • Remove unfriendly or potentially dangerous pets from the home
  • Call an exterminator to address pest problems
  • Clean thoroughly — the licensing worker does not expect perfection, but the space does need to be sanitary

When the MHA reveals that the applicant is not suited to provide care for children, the Foster Home License Application will be denied.

Some specific grounds for withholding approval include:

  • The applicant has not completed the required training
  • Applicants or household members are registered on the North Carolina Sex Offender and Public Protection Registry or the Health Care Personnel Registry
  • The applicant suffers from a mental or physical health condition that would impact his or her ability to provide care
  • The applicant has recently experienced a life-changing event (e.g. marriages, deaths, births, changes in household income, loss of employment, changes in health)
  • The applicant’s home is deemed unsafe
  • The applicant provided false or misleading information
  • The applicant or any member of the household has a record of a criminal conviction of a nature that could put children at risk of harm
  • The applicant or any member of the household has a record of substantiated child abuse or neglect

If your application has been denied, consult with your agency to determine if changes can be made to improve your chances of approval in the future.

For example, if your application was denied because your family recently experienced a tragic loss, you may receive approval a year from now.

If your Foster Home License Application was approved, congratulations! You are on your way to providing a safe harbor for children who need it most.

However, there is still more work to be done before you can accept a foster child.

To stay organized and on-task, print this checklist and keep it with your other foster parent documentation.

  • Connect with your medical provider to ensure they accept Medicaid and will be able to provide care to your foster child.
  • If you hope to foster children below the age of five, contact local daycares or preschools to inquire about availability.
  • If you hope to foster older children, ask the schools in your district about after-school care.
  • Ask your employer about taking time off when you receive your assignment.
  • Connect with other foster parents in your community to begin nurturing relationships.
  • Clean your home and decorate the foster child’s bedroom.
  • Place anything potentially dangerous, including medications and firearms, in a safe.
  • Purchase any supplies needed to make your foster child feel at home.

Supply List

  • First aid kit
  • Toiletries
    • Toothbrush
    • Toothpaste
    • Soap
    • Deodorant
    • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Children’s medicine
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Smoke detectors
  • Outlet covers
  • Baby proofing supplies
  • Mattress and bedding
  • Night lights or a flashlight
  • Pajamas of varying sizes
  • Kid-friendly snacks
  • School supplies
  • Children’s books and toys
  • Journals, sketch pads, crayons, and markers
  • Toys and stuffed animals

When a child is in need of temporary care, your case manager may call and ask if you are willing to open your heart and home.

Though you may be eager to say yes, take time to determine if you can truly offer the support he or she needs.

You may consider asking your case manager the following questions:

  • How old is the child?
  • Why is this child being placed?
  • What was this child’s previous placement experience?
  • Does the child have siblings?
  • What is the child’s legal status?
  • What is the expected placement length?
  • Is there a hearing set for a termination of parental rights?
  • Will the birth parents visit? If so, how often?
  • Is the child in good mental and physical health?
  • Does the child have any behavioral issues?

If you decide to move forward with placement, consider asking the case manager a few follow-up questions. Learning more about the child can help you make them feel more welcome.

Potential follow-up questions include:

  • What is the child’s full name? Do they have any nicknames?
  • What will make the child feel most at home?
  • Is the child religious?
  • When was the child’s last physical?
  • Where does the child attend school?

When you welcome a foster child into your home, you have the ability to change two lives: theirs and your own. But this change is not always easy. Most foster children take six to eight weeks to settle into their space and routine. Though, children with a history of trauma often require more time. During this adjustment period, your foster child may feel lost, confused, and even scared. They may act out. Or, they may be reserved and quiet.

The key is to create a sense of normalcy for the child. You can do this by:

Providing a Space of Their Own

Some foster children bounce from home to home, never truly feeling like they have a space of their own. But a little forethought can make your foster child feel more welcome.

Before they arrive, prepare a bedroom with age-appropriate decorations. You should also gather the basic supplies that they need. This includes some clothing, items for personal care (e.g. shampoo, soap, toothpaste), and school supplies.

After meeting your foster child, you may even ask what their favorite food is and pick it up from the grocery store. Or, you may prepare a fun dinner.

Though small, these personal touches help a child feel loved and cared for.

Keeping the Lines of Communication Open

Some children in foster care have a history of physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse. Because of this trauma, they may be slow to trust.

As a foster parent, you need to respect a child’s boundaries and meet them where they are.

In age-appropriate terms, explain to the child that you do not expect them to open up instantly. You are a stranger, after all. However, make sure they understand that you will be there when they are ready.

Creating a Routine

One of the easiest ways to nurture normalcy for a foster child is by creating a daily routine. A routine gives a child structure, affording stability during what may otherwise be a chaotic, scary time.

Use a whiteboard or calendar to schedule work, school, after-school activities, medical appointments, and errands. You should also try to schedule mealtimes and bedtimes.

Weekdays and weekends should follow the same general cadence. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example, you may take your foster child to the park after school. On Sundays, you may make dinner together.

Preserving School Connections

Many foster children lean on their school friends and teachers for support, and when that support system is ripped away, it can be very disruptive. That is why educational stability is so important.

According to North Carolina’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a child in foster care should remain in his or her school of origin, unless it is determined that remaining in that school is not in the child’s best interest.

If a foster child must leave his or her school, try your best to preserve those connections. You may, for example, schedule a playdate with friends from their old school. Or, if they were involved in sports, you may take them to watch a game.

Fostering Sibling Groups

Not all foster parents are in the position to foster more than one child at a time. And that is perfectly fine.

However, if you have the capacity, you may consider fostering a sibling group. For most children, being placed with their brothers and sisters promotes a sense of safety and well-being. Research also shows it lessens emotional and psychological issues2.

If siblings cannot be placed in the same home, efforts should be made to provide frequent visitation. (Note: Visitation is not advised if the sibling poses a risk to the other.)

When children are placed in foster care, it is natural for them to grieve. Even if they experienced abuse or neglect, they may still miss their parents. Or, they may miss their old school, home, pets, or day-to-day routines.

Though different children express grief in different ways, many foster care children:

  • Lose interest in activities and events
  • Experience insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
  • Act much younger than they are (e.g. sucking their thumb, bed-wetting)
  • Become overly clingy or socially withdrawn
  • Experience a drop in school performance
  • Act violently or aggressively

You can help your foster child process this grief by following this three-step process:

Step One: Teach Children To Recognize and Name Emotions

Early-life trauma fundamentally alters the way a child processes emotional information. As a result, your foster child may have trouble recognizing and naming their emotions.

They may, for example, often talk about a time they went fishing with their biological father. However, they may not overtly state that they miss their dad.

You can validate your foster child’s grief by reiterating what they are telling you. A simple statement (e.g. “It sounds like you feel sad because you cannot see your dad right now.”) allows them to understand what they are feeling. It also opens up communication.

Step Two: Help Children Understand How Feelings Are Expressed

Children who have experienced trauma also have trouble connecting their feelings with bodily sensations.

For example, your foster child may not understand that dry mouth, shakiness, and sweating is linked to anxiety.

Teaching a child about body signals is an important way to normalize their experiences. You can start by talking about your own signs of fear, anger, sadness, anxiety, and so on.

For younger kids, you can try painting or drawing exercises. For example, you could prompt a child to draw an angry face and then ask questions like, “When you feel angry, what does your tummy feel like?”

Step Three: Encourage Children To Express Emotions Safely

Some foster children are emotionally over-controlled, meaning that they internalize all thoughts and feelings. Other foster children are emotionally over-reactive.

The key is to determine your foster child’s style of emotional expression and then to teach appropriate self-regulation and coping skills.

Some children may prefer to listen to music alone when they experience a strong emotion. Others prefer to release tension through physical activity.

You should reinforce safe expression each time your foster child is dysregulated. For example, you may say, “I see that you are angry. How about you go play basketball?”

Up to 80% of children in foster care have significant behavioral and mental health issues3.

Why? Because many of these children have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect, or the loss of a parent. This trauma, coupled with the trauma of being forced to constantly adapt to changing environments, can lead to negative mental health outcomes.

Common mental health disorders seen among foster care youth include:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Reactive attachment disorder
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Social phobia
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Eating disorders

Since every child has different needs, you should work with a licensed therapist to address any mental health issues. Your foster care agency may already have a therapist in mind. If not, they can connect you with community resources. Depending on your foster child, the therapist may suggest some combination of individual and family therapy, psychological intervention, and medication.

As a prospective foster parent, you cannot pick the exact age of your future foster child. However, you can register certain age preferences.

Many potential foster parents think they will prefer young children — infants specifically. As such, infants are far more likely to be placed in foster homes than older children.

Case in point: In 2000 and 2008, more than 60% of babies spent most of their time in foster care placements compared to 44 to 50% of older children4.

Though the age group you foster is ultimately your decision, keep in mind that all children are deserving of love and that every age group affords unique joys and challenges.

Supporting a Young Child (Ages 0 to 5)

Children this age can be very sweet and caring. They are also very impressionable, so you can begin to teach emotional regulation skills.

Just keep in mind that young children require constant attention. Depending on their development, they may need nighttime feedings and diaper changes. Or, they may need potty training.

If you are not a stay-at-home parent, you will need to find suitable child care during the day.

Supporting a School-Age Child (Ages 5 to 12)

Since children between the ages of five and 12 are in school, you no longer need to worry about daily child care. This makes juggling the responsibilities of full-time work and parenting easier for some foster parents.

School-age children are also beginning to develop a sense of self. They are naturally inquisitive and will turn to you to learn more about the world around them.

However, school-age children are more likely to have experienced trauma. This can lead to emotional and behavioral problems as well as developmental delays.

Supporting a Teen (Ages 13+)

According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, only 58% of foster teens live with a family, compared with 95% of kids 12 and under5. If you are looking to serve those with the greatest needs, teenagers are in great need of loving and supportive homes.

Teenagers are much more independent. They will likely spend more time at school and participating in extracurriculars.

As the foster parent of a teen, you can help them make important decisions regarding their future. You can also provide them with the resources, stability, and mentorship needed to complete high school and pursue higher education.

But with a teen’s strong sense of self comes challenges. Teens are more likely to develop negative coping mechanisms like substance abuse, self-harm, and eating disorders.

As a foster parent of a teen, it is your responsibility to address these issues with patience and understanding.

Since the goal of fostering is reunification, another responsibility of foster parenting is supporting the child’s relationship with their parents. This is called shared parenting.

Shared parenting can be difficult, especially if there is a history of abuse or neglect. But there are many benefits to sharing parenting, including:

  • The birth parents can be reassured that their child is in a safe and loving home.
  • Children can maintain a relationship with their birth parents, which eases the transition to foster care.
  • Foster parents can model effective parenting, helping the birth parents develop into better caregivers.
  • Planning for visitation can be simplified.
  • If and when reunification occurs, the foster child and his or her family can continue receiving guidance.

How To Support Reunification

Developing a collaborative relationship with your foster child’s birth parents can seem impossible at first. After all, you probably have very different life experiences and parenting styles.

However, finding common ground is possible, especially if you:

  • Make contact as soon as possible. After consulting with your case manager and establishing rules for contacting the birth parents, pick up the phone. Let them know that you will take great care of their child until he or she can return home.
  • Do not try to replace them. Assure your foster child’s birth parents that you are not trying to replace them. You are simply providing a temporary home while the family heals.
  • Talk positively in front of the child. Never criticize the child’s birth parents in front of him or her. Use language that fosters the child’s connection with their parents. For example, “Wow! That drawing is amazing. I bet your mom would love it.”
  • Do not take their emotions personally. Your foster child’s birth parents may be angry or hostile. Remember that these feelings are an expression of their grief and possibly even guilt.
  • Include them. Depending on visitation guidelines, you may invite your foster child’s birth parents to school activities, medical appointments, or family get-togethers. Use these events as opportunities to model positive parenting behavior.

Again, before making any contact with your child’s birth parents, it is critical that you speak with your foster child’s case manager.

Fostering a child can be both incredibly rewarding and incredibly difficult. As with any child, there will be grocery store tantrums and nighttime tummy bugs. But there may also be behavioral issues related to abuse, neglect, and other trauma.

The good news is that you do not have to do this alone.

Your foster care agency and case manager will always be available to offer guidance on a variety of parenting topics, from soothing an infant with colic to discussing safe sex with a teen.

Foster care agencies also provide a range of support services. For example, Children’s Hope Alliance offers:

  • 24/7 support
  • Individual, group, and family therapy
  • Psychiatry and medication management
  • Health and wellness coaching
  • Respite care
  • Parenting classes
  • Foster parent support groups

In the state of North Carolina, foster parents receive a monthly stipend to help support the children in their care.

As of 2022, the Standard Foster Care Board Rates are:

  • Age 0-5: $514/month
  • Age 6-12: $654/month
  • Age 13+: $698/month

The foster care stipend can be spent on expenses such as:

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Housing
  • Daycare
  • School supplies
  • Other daily living expenses

Your foster care agency may also offer monetary support for expenses like summer camp, extracurriculars, and tutoring.

It takes a village to raise a child. Luckily, as a foster parent, you will be surrounded by a team of understanding and encouraging community members.

Case Manager: Your case manager is your key contact with the supervising agency. This individual is here to offer round-the-clock support.

Guardian ad Litem (GAL): The Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is a trained volunteer appointed by the court to advocate for a foster child. The GAL investigates the needs of abused and neglected children and then makes recommendations to the judge.

Therapists: Approximately one in four children in foster care will show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder6. Therapy can help children process their past traumas and develop coping mechanisms for future stressors. Your agency can arrange for regular therapy for your foster child.

Teachers:As with all children, your foster child’s teacher will play an instrumental role in their development and academic success. Nurturing a positive relationship with the school can ensure that the child’s needs are met.

Foster Parent Association: Joining a foster parent association can help you process grief and stress. Connecting with other foster parents will also help you feel less alone, especially when life gets difficult.

Birth Families: The primary goal of foster care is to reunite children with their birth families. Therefore, it is important that children in foster care maintain contact and nurture healthy relationships with their birth parents and other family members (e.g. siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles).

When you bring a foster child into your home, you commit to providing that child with the support he or she needs — no matter what.

But what happens if a foster child offers more than you can handle?

This is a legitimate question and one you should not feel guilty asking.

Sometimes, circumstances necessitate that a child transition to another foster home:

  • A medically fragile or mentally ill child who requires more care than you can provide
  • A foster parent being diagnosed with a chronic illness
  • Volatility or violence between the foster child and existing children in the home
  • Situations where the child is a threat to themselves and/or the foster family
  • An adolescent who persistently requests a placement change

In these situations, your case manager can offer guidance and support. If it is decided that the child should be moved, do not blame yourself. A failed placement does not mean you have failed as a foster parent.

Foster care is intentionally temporary. The hope is that after a short-term stay in your home (13 months is the average period of time7), the child will find a permanent home.

This permanent home may be with:

  • The child’s birth parents or a relative. In 2019, 56% of the children who left foster care were reunited with a family member8.
  • An adoptive family. In 2019, 26% of children who left foster care were adopted8.

However, not all children find permanent homes. Sometimes, foster care placements come to an end for other reasons, including:

  • A child ages out of the system. In North Carolina, young adults can remain in the foster care system until they are 21 years old.
  • A foster care placement change. In some cases, a foster care agency may determine that another foster home is a better fit. For example, there may be an opportunity to reunite siblings under one roof.

Regardless of the reason, saying goodbye to a foster child can be heartbreaking.

For months, possibly even years, you have watched this child grow and mature. You have provided unconditional love through nightmares, court hearings, and other ups and downs. And now, you must let go.

As you prepare for this change, remember: Saying goodbye is the hardest part. No foster parent finds it easy. But there are ways of making it easier.

When parting ways with your foster child, remember to:

  • Stay positive. Think of the difference you made in this child’s life. What milestones have you helped them achieve? This can be small (think: learning to tie their shoes) or big (think: developing safe coping mechanisms).
  • Do not alarm the child. Saying goodbye can also be stressful for your foster child. They may be nervous about what comes next and need your support. Offer reassurance like, “I bet you will love your new room with your adoptive family!” and “Are you excited to spend more time with your birth dad?”
  • Process your grief. After your foster child has moved on, take time to process your emotions. You may even join a foster parent support group to connect with people who have experienced the same type of loss.

Staying in Touch With Former Foster Children

In some cases, you can remain in touch with your former foster children. This contact can range from occasional phone calls to in-person visits.

Continued contact can help a child feel safe and loved, especially if they developed a meaningful relationship with you. As a former foster parent, you can also provide support to the birth parent, either through guidance or child care.

But staying in touch with your former foster children may not always be the best choice.

Sometimes, your presence can be confusing to a child. They may feel torn between you and their birth or adoptive parents. Your presence may also affect their ability to nurture new relationships.

North Carolina does not have a dual licensure process. This means that there are two separate approval processes for foster care and adoption.

Your adoption agency may try to streamline these two processes, especially if you are a foster parent interested in adopting a current foster child. However, you can generally expect to encounter these eight steps:

  1. Select an Agency: The adoption agency you select may be the agency you worked with to complete your foster parent licensure. Or, it may be a different agency altogether.
  2. Attend an Orientation Session: During this orientation session with your adoption agency, you will learn more about what the North Carolina adoption process entails.
  3. Complete Training: The state of North Carolina does not require official training for adoptive parents. However, your adoption agency may require that you complete TIPS-MAPP (Trauma Informed Partnering for Safety and Permanence — Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) or an equivalent training and assessment process.
  4. Complete a Pre-Placement Assessment (PPA): During a pre-placement assessment (PPA), you will have multiple face-to-face contacts and interviews with your social workers, both in and outside of the home. The goal of the PPA is to determine your family’s suitability to adopt.
  5. Find the Right Child: Once you have obtained an approved PPA, you can begin working with your social worker to locate a child whose needs can be met by your family.
  6. Visit With Your Child: Once a child has been identified, a visiting plan will be established so that the child and your family can get to know one another before a placement is made.
  7. Complete the Supervisory Period: Once a placement has been made, the child must remain in your home for three months before the adoption process can legally be completed. During this supervisory period, expect ongoing communication and contact with your social worker.
  8. Legalize the Adoption: During the final step, you will work with an attorney to complete the legal adoption process. This process will culminate in a decree of adoption.

When children enter the foster care system, the hope is that they will be reunited with their families. But that does not always happen.

Should the court terminate the birth parent’s parental rights, the child will become eligible for adoption.

If and when this occurs, many foster parents welcome the child into their home permanently. In fact, 52% of the children adopted in 2019 were adopted by their foster parents8.

But before you make this life-changing decision, you likely have many questions, including:

  • How do I adopt my foster child?
  • Can I adopt a child and continue to foster?
  • What if adoption is not right for me?

We address many of these concerns below. However, the team at Children’s Hope Alliance is also available to answer more questions — even the ones you are afraid to ask — in real-time.

Our mission is to build healthy, happy families, so we will provide as much information as possible to help you move forward with confidence.

When Are Foster Children Eligible for Adoption?

Foster children are eligible for adoption when their birth parent’s rights have been terminated.
A petition to terminate parental rights can be filed immediately after allegations of serious abuse or neglect. However, a petition to terminate parental rights is typically filed after the child has been in foster care for at least 12 months. If, at this point, the birth parent shows no progress in correcting the conditions that led to the child’s removal, the court may terminate parental rights.

Who Is Eligible To Adopt?

To be an adoptive parent in North Carolina, you must:
-Be 18+ years old
-Provide a stable, drug-free home
-Have a reliable income
-Be open to a criminal records check and being fingerprinted
State law does not specify the number of training hours to become an adoptive parent. However, most adoption agencies set their own guidelines.

How Much Does It Cost To Adopt From Foster Care?

In North Carolina, the cost of adoption through foster care ranges between $0 and $2,000. You will also need to hire a lawyer to finalize the adoption. Legal fees vary but generally average $200 to $5009.
Most children in foster care are eligible for the adoption tax credit. This credit allows adoptive parents to claim adoption expenses (e.g. adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, travel expenses).

Are Family Members Given Priority During the Adoption Process?

Typically, yes. When reunification is not possible, the child’s case manager first looks to extended family members and other people who have played a role in the child’s life. The latter includes foster parents.

What if I Do Not Want To Adopt?

Some foster families are thrilled at the prospect of adopting their foster child. But other foster families do not want to adopt. And that is OK.
A foster family may choose not to adopt because adding a “permanent” member to their household would be overwhelming. Or, they may lack the resources a child requires (e.g. round-the-clock care for a special needs child).
In some cases, a family may be more interested in fostering than adopting. After all, part of the beauty of fostering is its impermanence. After helping one child learn to thrive, you can offer unconditional love and support to another child in need.

The North Carolina Adoption Process

  • Take time to read this guide. Think critically about the joys and challenges of fostering before moving forward.
  • Meet with a foster care agency like Children’s Hope Alliance. An initial conversation will give you a feel for the agency, but also help you learn more about the fostering process and ask any additional questions.
  • Contact Children’s Hope Alliance with questions or to start the fostering process.

Birth Parent: Foster child’s biological mother and/or father

Case Manager: Staff member at foster care agency who plans and supervises the placements for youth and foster families

Child Protective Services (CPS): Government agency tasked with receiving and screening reports of suspected child abuse and neglect and seeking court action to protect children when necessary

Department of Social Services (DSS): Licensing authority for foster homes in North Carolina

Foster Care: Temporary living arrangement for children whose parents or guardians can no longer offer adequate support

Foster Care Agency: Organization tasked with recruiting, training, and supporting foster parents

Guardian ad Litem: Trained volunteer appointed by the court to advocate for a foster child

Mutual Home Assessment (MHA): Key document in the foster home licensing process

Placement: Process of identifying a suitable foster home for a foster child

Pre-Placement Assessment (PPA): Formal written assessment required in North Carolina to be approved as an adoptive family

Respite Care: Short-term relief for foster parents

Reunification: Occurs when foster children return to live with their birth parents full-time; is goal of foster care

Shared Parenting: Co-parenting process between birth parents and foster parents

TIPS-MAPP: Required training for North Carolina foster parents; stands for Trauma Informed Partnering for Safety and Permanence — Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting

Therapeutic Foster Care: Support designed for children who have intensive behavioral or mental health needs

Traditional Foster Care: A less structured home environment compared to therapeutic foster care