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Foster Care (FC)
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Join Virginia's Faster Families Highway

Foster families are needed now more than ever to support family reunification and provide children who enter foster care with opportunities to remain connected to their families and home communities. In order to connect prospective foster parents with their local departments of social services, Virginia has established the Faster Families Highway. By creating an account, you'll be put on the fastest pathway to becoming a foster parent and beginning your journey of supporting children and families in your local community.

Interested in becoming a foster parent?

Foster care is intended to be a temporary rather than a long-term solution for children who have been removed from their birth family homes for reasons of neglect, abuse, abandonment, or other issues endangering their health and/or safety. Every effort is made to help the child remain with his or her family, however, when a child comes into foster care they are most often placed in a foster home. The foster family works as a team with the local department of social services, the biological family, the child (when applicable) and any additional community partners.

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. It is essential that foster parents understand and are willing to meet the physical and emotional needs of children within the context of their culture. 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.

VDSS also works in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and federally-contracted agencies to administer the Virginia's Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) program. The URM program encourages reunification of children with their parents or other appropriate adult relatives whenever possible, and provides culturally sensitive, therapeutic foster care and placement services to unaccompanied refugee minors and other special populations of unaccompanied youth in the United States.

It is essential that foster parents understand and are willing to meet the physical and emotional needs of children within the context of their culture. Individuals and families seeking information specific to foster care for unaccompanied refugee minors should contact 2-1-1 Virginia.

Role of a foster parent

Foster parents are asked to provide a safe, stable, temporary and caring atmosphere for a child placed in their home. Foster parents become part of a team effort to support the child and implement the plans made for the child. This involves working with biological parents, courts, local departments of social services and other involved agencies.


Family reunification is the process of returning a child to his or her family of origin following a placement in foster care. In Virginia, reunification is the primary goal for children in foster care. Research finds that children do best when raised in their own families, whenever possible. In order to successfully achieve reunification, challenges associated with the birth parents must be thoroughly addressed as the child's safety and well-being are paramount. This requires the support of the child welfare professionals and the child's foster parents.

Strong partnerships between birth parents, foster parents, local departments of social services, courts and other community partners are critical to achieving successful reunification and stability for children. Foster parents play a critical role in helping to involve birth families in case planning and decision-making, providing mentoring support of birth parents, and facilitating visits between children and their biological families.

Approximately one-third of children exiting foster care each year return to their parents' custody. Other outcomes include adoption, the transfer of custody to a relative, and emancipation (or aging out of foster care with no identified family).

In June, VDSS celebrates the accomplishments of the many parents who work tremendously hard to overcome challenges and barriers in order to have their children's custody returned to them. We also celebrate the many foster parents, child welfare professionals, attorneys, judges, treatment providers, and family members who support them in this work.

Click to read 'The Real Stories of Foster & Adoptive Families', a compilation of the compelling anecdotes from families across the state of Virginia who were started, reunited and strengthened through foster care and adoption.


When children are placed in foster care, it is imperative to find safe, permanent homes for them as quickly as possible. Permanency can have different meanings depending on the child, family, and case circumstances. Permanency can be achieved through 1) reunification, 2) placement with or custody transfer to a relative, or 3) adoption. Permanency helps youth establish and nurture a family connection that can provide a lifetime of support, commitment and a sense of belonging beyond temporary placement, even as they transition into adulthood. In many circumstances, children can be reunited with their families. However, there are some cases that require children to find permanent homes with relatives or adoptive families.

When a child comes to the attention of the child welfare system, the initial focus is on supporting and stabilizing a family to prevent an initial placement. If children must be removed from their families to ensure their safety, permanency planning efforts focus on returning them home as soon as is safely possible. If reunification is not an option, other permanent families may include relatives or adoptive families who obtain legal custody.

Becoming a foster parent

You must be at least 18 years of age or older to be approved as a foster parent. Individuals and/or couples must have the time and energy to give to a child and must meet all the approval requirements.

Steps in the approval process

  • Attend a one-time orientation meeting to learn what foster parenting is all about
  • Successfully complete pre-service training
  • Complete a home study
  • Participate in at least three (3) face-to-face interviews
  • Submit a national Fingerprint Criminal Record check, a child abuse and neglect history check, and a DMV check
  • Provide a physician’s report verifying that you are physically and mentally capable of caring for a child
  • Verify that you have enough income to provide for your family
  • Submit the names of three (3) references

Join the Faster Families Highway to start your foster parent journey and get connected with your local department of social services.

Who are the children?

The children in foster care come from many different types of families and range in age from birth to 17 years of age. There are approximately 5,000 children currently in foster care in Virginia.

Is a single person able to be a foster parent?

Yes. Foster parents can be single, married, divorced or widowed. The Commonwealth of Virginia does not preclude a person from being a foster parent based solely on their culture, religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, affectional orientation, or marital/civil union or domestic partnership status. The important thing is their willingness and ability to parent.

Is a foster parent able to hold a job?

Yes, foster parents are able to be employed outside the home.  In fact, your local department of social services may provide funding for child care for your foster children while you are at work.

How many foster children will I have?

This is determined for each family during the licensing process. Capacity of the home is based on multiple factors. However, the number of children in the provider's home shall not exceed eight (8) children.

Once a child is placed with me, how long will he/she stay?

Foster care is considered temporary and short term. Every situation is unique and a foster child’s time in foster care depends on the family’s circumstances.

If I become a foster parent will I have to meet/interact with the child's birth parents?

Yes, we encourage foster parents to work collaboratively with birth parents.

What happens when the child returns home?

A foster child's return home is usually the ultimate goal. The foster parent will have the opportunity to participate in the planning and to say goodbye to the foster child. This can be a difficult time, but the child's return home represents a success. Returning home is the goal for most children in foster care.

What happens when the child is unable to return home?

For some children, their parents are not able to regain custody and, if relative placement is not an option, the child may become available for adoption.

For some children, their parents are not able to regain custody and, if relative placement is not an option, the child may become available for adoption.
Foster children are covered by Medicaid, which covers all necessary care and treatment.

I've never been a foster parent before, will I have other support?

A worker will be assigned to support you throughout the child's stay in your home. As you foster, there will be opportunities to attend ongoing training sessions throughout the year. Child care, services and funding for other activities for children may be available. Joining a foster parent support group, such as FACES or the National Foster Parent Association (NFPA), is a good way to get advice and assistance from experienced foster parents.

Will a past conviction affect my eligibility to foster?

It depends on the nature, severity of the offense and length of time that has passed since the conviction. Applicants with barrier crimes cannot be approved as a foster parent.

My husband and I want to adopt and we have been told that we have to be foster parents first. Is this true or can we just be approved to adopt only?

If you are applying for adoption through a Licensed Child Placing Agency you can be approved to adopt without becoming a foster parent first. However, in Virginia, over 60% of our foster care youth are adopted by their foster parent.

Myth: I could never be a foster parent because it would break my heart when the child returned home

Fact: Even if a foster child is only with you for a short time, you may be the one person that can make a positive change in that child’s life forever. By building relationships with biological families, you could continue to have contact with a child even after they successfully reunite with their parents.

Myth: Foster parents have to stay at home with the children and can't work a full-time job

Fact: Most foster parents work outside of the home. Discuss child care options available with your local department of social services.

Myth: You must have an income of at least $45,000

Fact: There are no income requirements. Foster parents must have sufficient income to meet the needs of the family.

Myth: You must be married

Fact:You can be single, married, divorced or widowed.

Myth: You must own your home

Fact: You can own or rent a home, trailer or apartment.

Myth: You must have a college degree

Fact: There are no educational requirements to become a foster parent.

Myth: Foster children must have their own bedroom

Fact: Foster children may share a room. Children of the opposite sex over the age of three (3) shall not sleep in the same room.

Myth: Same-sex parents are not capable of providing a healthy environment for an adopted child

Fact: Children of same-sex parents adjust well and grow up in the same positive environment as those of heterosexual families.

Myth: Foster parents must carry foster children on their medical insurance

Fact: Most children in foster care are eligible for Medicaid. Foster parents are NOT required to carry foster children on their medical insurance.

Resources for Foster Care

Permanency Matters Newsletters

The Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) Permanency Matters newsletters are published periodically to highlight permanency topics such as reunification, adoption, kinship care and other key components. The goal of this resource is to provide information on best practices, exemplar work being done at our local departments of social services (LDSS), current events and training opportunities, and shared experiences from the families with whom we work. We welcome contributions from youth and families, LDSS, private providers, and other partners who have stories and practice examples to share. Please let us know what your agency is doing to promote permanency!

Kinship Care

Kinship Care is the full time care, nurturing and protection of children by a relative (Code of Virginia §63.2-100). The Virginia Department of Social Services supports placing children with relatives when children cannot live with their parents. In Virginia kinship care families are eligible for assistance based on either an informal or formal arrangement.

Informal Kinship Care

Under this arrangement, a child is not in the custody of a local department of social services. Assistance may include:

Formal Kinship Care
When the Child is In the custody of a local department of social services and living with a relative who is an approved foster parent, assistance includes the following:
  • Annual training to develop knowledge and improve skills regarding meeting the needs of the child
  • A monthly stipend for the child's basic care requirements
  • Assistance in the management of the child's behavior

Related brochures

Related Links

Safe and Sound Task Force

Applicable Law, Code & Regulations

FC Services

Ideally, at-risk children should remain with their actual families whenever possible. Although foster care services offered by the state of Virginia make every effort to keep them together, it isn't always possible. Once it is determimed that a child must leave the family unit and go into foster care, a host of other services becomes available to them, which are designed to promote child safety and well-being within a nurturing, family environment.

Placement Services

This involves placing a child with a foster family, group home, residential children's facility or an independent living arrangement.

Teaching Independent Living Skills

Services are designed to help foster kids ages 14-21 to develop the skills necessary to transition from foster care to self-sufficiency. Personal development skills such as self-esteem, communication skills, decision-making, conflict resolution and anger management are emphasized.

Physical or Mental Health Treatment

This service often includes help with:

  • Substance abuse
  • Depression
  • Socialization
  • ADHD
  • Nutritional deficiency
  • Pregnancy
  • Physical disabilities


  • Providing good role models for parents
  • Role modeling such as Big Brother/Big Sister programs
  • Tutoring

Opportunity for a Permanent Living Situation

This involves fostering relationships between children and relatives or previous caregivers. For older youth leaving care this might include helping find an apartment or a roommate.

Guidance Manuals

Foster Care


Effective 07-2022
Effective 07-2021
Effective 08-2020
Effective 07-2019
Effective 11-2018

Other Foster Care Guidance Manuals


Educational Stability

Normalcy For Youth In Foster Care

The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (P.L. 113-183) is a federal policy that was created to assist in the provision of normalcy in foster care by empowering caregivers to make everyday decisions regarding the activities of foster children and youth in their care so that these children can have as normal a childhood as possible. Normalcy can be further explained through the Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standard which is defined as: "Careful and sensible parental decisions which ensure the child's health, safety, and best interest while at the same time encouraging the child's emotional and developmental growth, that a caregiver shall use when determining whether to allow a child in foster care to participate in extracurricular, enrichment, cultural, and social activities."

What is the law?

The law states that caregivers must utilize the Reasonable and Prudent Parent standards when making decisions regarding the activities of the foster youth in their care, which includes considering the following:

  • The child's age, maturity, and developmental level to maintain the overall health and safety of the child;
  • Potential risk factors and the appropriateness of the activity;
  • The best interest of the child based on the caregiver's knowledge of the child;
  • The importance of encouraging the child's emotional and developmental growth;
  • The importance of providing the child with the most family-like living experience possible;
  • The behavioral history of the child and the child's ability to safely participate in the proposed activity;
  • The wishes of birth parents whose rights have not been terminated; and
  • The child's foster care plan.

Frequent Issues:

Social Media
  • Children are permitted to participate in social media as long as permission has been given by caregiver.
Caregiver and Case Worker should:
  • Assist the child in enrolling in a driver's education program;
  • Support the child's efforts to learn to drive a car, obtain learner's permit & driver's license (age, maturity, insurance); and
  • Assist the child in obtaining automobile insurance.
Overnight / Planned Outings
  • The caregiver shall determine that it is safe & appropriate.
  • Background screenings are not necessary for a child to participate in normal school or community activities and outings such as school field trips, dating, scout camp outs, sleepovers and activities with friends, families, school and church groups.
Bank Accounts
  • Whenever it is appropriate, children should be encouraged to open and maintain bank accounts.
  • Youth are allowed to babysit consistent with their foster care plan.
  • A babysitting course is recommended.
Caregivers can have a babysitter in their home to provide short-term babysitting. When arranging for a babysitter the caregiver shall ensure:
  • Babysitter is suitable for the age, developmental level and behaviors of child;
  • Babysitter understands how to handle emergencies and have appropriate contact information; and
  • Discipline and confidentiality policies for the child have been explained.
  • Caregivers are encouraged to take children on vacation as they would their own children.

Special Considerations:

  • Foster youth with disabilities shall be provided with an equal opportunity to participate in activities.
  • Confidentiality requirements for department records shall not restrict the child's participation in customary activities appropriate for the child's age and developmental level.

Consistent with the child's foster care plan, the child shall be given permission/encouragement to:

  • Have opportunities to spend his or her own money
  • Have access to a phone
  • Have reasonable curfews
  • Travel with other youth or adults
  • Have his or her picture taken for publication in a newspaper or yearbook
  • Receive public recognition for accomplishments
  • Participate in school or after-school

Children should be provided with information when it is appropriate regarding:

  • Teen sexuality issues
  • Drug and alcohol use and abuse
  • Runaway prevention
  • Health services
  • Community involvement
  • Locating available resources
  • Identifying legal issues
  • Understanding his or her legal rights
  • Accessing specific legal advice

Download the Providing Normalcy for Youth in Foster Care resource guide.

Training Course

This course is designed for foster parents, congregate care providers (group homes and residential facilities), local department of social services staff and community partners within the Commonwealth of Virginia. Foster parents/congregate care providers have an important role in authorizing participation in social, extracurricular, and recreational activities to promote a more "normal" life experience for youth in foster care. This training enables learners to differentiate between decisions that can be made by foster parents and those which must be authorized by the local department of social services and to make child-specific decisions about participation in activities by applying the Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standard.

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