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Family, Youth and Children’s Services,
1202 Apollo Way,
Santa Rosa, CA 95403

Frequently Asked Questions

What is foster parenting?

Foster parenting is a way to make a positive impact on a child’s life. Foster parents provide a safe, loving, and nurturing temporary home for children who are unable to stay with their birth families. As a foster parent, you will become a member of a team that is working to ensure each child’s well-being. The team typically includes the child’s family, the foster family, social workers and other professionals, the court, and the child himself / herself, when appropriate.

How do I know if foster parenting is right for me and my family?

If you can say "yes" or "probably" to these questions, you may be that special person who can change the life of a child in need.

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What is the foster parents’ role?

The foster parents’ role is to provide a supportive and stable family and home for children. They truly care about the children and are able to provide patient guidance to children in need. Foster parents work as part of the child’s team along with social workers, attorneys, nurses and other professionals. The goal is to reunite children with their birth parents if this can be done safely. Most foster children will visit regularly with their parents in a supervised or unsupervised setting. Foster parents should have the time and transportation to bring the child to these visits. Foster parents sometimes help birth parents learn how to safely care for their children. It is reassuring to the children’s birth parents to hear about how their children are doing in the foster family’s home, and to know their children’s foster parents truly care. We hope the foster family and birth family will work together for the sake of the child. Foster parents frequently become mentors for the birth family. If the children will not be returning to their birth parents, the foster parents assist in the transition process to prepare the child to live with other relatives or move to an adoptive home. Sometimes foster parents have the opportunity, and decide to adopt their foster children.

What happens to children when they are first removed from their birth families?

Most children younger than six are taken directly to Emergency Foster Homes. Our Emergency Foster Parents often specify the ages and gender of the children they wish to care for. Our social workers attempt to place children with special needs with more experienced foster parents as much as possible. However, flexibility is very helpful, as usually little is known about the children when they first enter foster care. Older children usually are taken to Valley of the Moon Children’s Home. In both locations each child is assessed for developmental, behavioral and health concerns.

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How long will the child stay in my home?

The length of time a child will stay in a foster home varies greatly. Some children are in care for only a few days before being returned to their birth parents or going to live with other relatives. Some children may be reunited with their birth parents after a year or more, and others eventually may become eligible for adoption by their foster parents or others. If an adoptive home is not found children may remain in a foster home for an even longer period of time.

What if I want to adopt a child?

When a child is taken into the foster care system the outcome is usually not known right away. While working to reunite the child with their birth family, the social worker will make a “concurrent plan”, identifying an alternative plan for the child if reunification is not possible. The preferred concurrent plans include living with other relatives, adoption, and guardianship. Foster parents may be identified as the child’s concurrent (FostAdopt) family to be considered for a child’s adoption or other alternative permanent plan, if reunification is not possible. Most adoptive families served as a child’s concurrent (FostAdopt) family before the adoption. In order to be a concurrent (FostAdopt) home, a foster home license is needed. This license is available from the Sonoma County Human Services Department. Families wishing to adopt must also have an approved adoptive home study.

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How long will I wait before a child comes to live with me?

Children of all ages come in to foster care when it is believed to be unsafe for them to remain in their family home. Social workers placing children try to make the best match possible. Some foster parents have a child placed in their home immediately upon becoming licensed while others may wait quite some time for a placement. We especially need foster homes for special needs children, older children and teenagers, and sibling groups.

May I choose the child I want?

Foster families may specify the ages and genders of children they feel would be the best match for their families. Foster parents’ preferences are taken into consideration as the children’s social workers match them with foster families that can best meet their needs. The social workers typically contact prospective foster parents to discuss the children before making placements.

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Will I get to meet the child before he/she comes to live with me?

If you become an emergency foster family, you probably will not meet the child ahead of time, as these children are usually placed quickly into the emergency foster homes. Otherwise, you usually will be able to meet the child and visit with him/her a few times before he/she comes to live with you. This “transition period” helps make the transition easier for everyone involved.

Will the birth parents know where I live?

We do not give foster parents’ full names and address information to birth parents. However, in some situations foster families develop a relationship with the birth parents and chose to share this information themselves.

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Do I need to be married to be a foster parent? Can I be divorced and be a foster parent?

We appreciate that loving families can be very diverse and we support this diversity. Foster parents may be single, married, same sex couples, gay or lesbian, or unmarried couples in stable, long-term relationships. If you are undergoing a major transition in your life, such as a separation or divorce, it would be better to postpone foster parenting until you are better able to provide consistency, security and stability for a child.

What about if I rent my home?

Foster parents can live in rented houses and apartments. It is important that your landlord know and agree to your plan to have children in the home.

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Am I too old to be a foster parent?

Older parents can make good foster parents. It is important that your health and energy levels are sufficient to keep up with the needs of raising a child. Foster parenting can be busy. Children may be involved in school or extracurricular activities, and have medical or therapy appointments as well as visits with their family. Young children may require your attention throughout the night.

Can I be a foster parent if I am working?

The children’s social workers strive to place each child in a home where she or he will thrive. Some children will do fine in a foster home that does not have a stay-at-home parent, while other children need a foster home with a stay-at-home parent available throughout the day. If you are working it is certainly helpful if you have a flexible schedule. Please remember that most foster children will visit regularly with their parents. They may have unusual medical or other needs and will need transportation to medical or counseling appointments. Foster parents must be able to provide this transportation.

Foster parents have various income levels, but it is important that foster parents have enough income to meet their own family’s needs.

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Does the child have to have her or his own bedroom?

No, often two children may share a bedroom, although each child should have his/her own bed. A girl and a boy may not share a room unless they are both four years of age or younger. Bunk beds are usually permitted if the child sleeping on top is at least five years old and there is a bed rail. Children also need to have closet and drawer space for clothing and personal possessions. Although children are not permitted to share a bedroom with an adult, an exception is made for children younger than two. These children also should have a crib or bassinet as appropriate.

Who pays for the child’s living expenses?

Foster parents receive a monthly payment from Sonoma County to reimburse them for the children’s basic living expenses. The rate paid varies depending on the child’s age and any special needs. You must have sufficient income to support yourself and your family.
Emergency Foster Parents receive a higher payment because the needs of the children are generally greater when they are first placed into foster care.
Although part of the monthly payment is intended to cover clothing expenses, an additional clothing allowance is also provided when a child first enters care and each year afterward.

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Do foster children have medical insurance?

Some of the children are covered by their birth parent’s insurance. Most foster children qualify for Medi-Cal, which pays for most of the children’s medical, dental, counseling, and other health-related expenses. We have a Public Health Nurse who helps foster parents find available Medi-Cal providers. Some foster parents choose to enroll their foster child in their group insurance plan if their plan accepts foster children. If you are a Kaiser member, we suggest that you ask whether they will accept Medi-Cal for your foster child.

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Is other support available?

Each child is assigned to a social worker who visits regularly with the child and foster parents. The social worker is also available by phone when needed. When appropriate, you may be referred to community resources.

May I take my foster child to church or synagogue with me?

Yes, usually you may. However, if a foster child is of a different faith she or he should be able to go to services for that faith if they wish. Please discuss this with the child’s social worker when you are contacted about a possible placement.

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Will I ever get to see the children again?

Sometimes foster parents will not see the children after they leave. But often, they do. Sometimes foster and birth parents develop a positive relationship which continues after a child returns home. Other times the foster and adoptive parents remain part of each others’ lives. In either case, for example, you may be asked if you would like to babysit, or you may be included in birthday parties. Older foster children may come to visit and may remain members of your family. Some of our foster parents develop a large “extended family” they met through foster parenting.

I know a child who I might want to have live with me. What should I do?

If the child has been taken into protective custody or if you suspect she/he may be abused or neglected please call Child Protective Services in the county where the child lives. For Sonoma County CPS please call (707) 565-4304 or (800) 870-7064. Also, visit the Sonoma Kinship Center website for further information and resources at or call them at (707) 569-0877.

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Can I place a foster child in day care?

By law, foster children may not stay home alone with the exception of some teenage foster children, who may be allowed to stay at home alone for limited periods of time.
If needed, appropriate child care arrangements should be made by the foster parents. Unfortunately, we are not able to provide additional funding to cover child care, although foster children are generally eligible for subsidized child care programs.
The Redwood Empire Foster Parent Association currently provides some respite care funding to their members who are Emergency Foster Parents. This allows these foster parents to run errands, handle a family emergency, or simply to take a break from the daily demands of parenting without having to pay for child care. Also, many of our foster parents get to know each other and become comfortable exchanging some child care between themselves.
We are also looking for people who would like to be approved by Sonoma County to provide respite care for foster children. Financial arrangements should be made between the foster parent and the respite care provider. Please call our Foster Home Developer at (707) 565-4274 for further information.

Why do I need to take classes before foster parenting? I know how to raise children.

It is important to understand that parenting a foster child it is not the same as parenting a birth child or even a stepchild. Most of the children in foster care have been abandoned, abused or neglected and this impacts the children’s emotional state and behavior. Even infants are affected by their experiences both before and after birth, and some were exposed to their mother’s substance abuse during her pregnancy.
You will need to talk with your foster children about their birth families and help them manage their feelings about being separated. You also need to learn how to interact with the children’s families and to know how to respond before and after the children visit with parents, siblings and other family members.
The pre-service training will help prepare you for this and help you to understand the court process set up for the children’s welfare. You will learn about various community resources and meet some of the professionals you will be working with. You will also become acquainted with one or more experienced foster parents who can serve as a mentor to guide you along the way.
The training and support you receive can help make foster parenting a positive experience. Sonoma County’s training is free of charge.
Each foster parent is also expected to participate in eight hours of continuing education every year after being licensed. A variety of interesting and useful classes are available.
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What can I expect when the licensing social worker visits my home?

We understand that we are visiting the homes of real people with busy households. We do not expect our foster homes to be spotless or beautifully decorated. We do want to make sure that your home will be a comfortable, healthy and safe place for a child to live.
Our licensing social worker usually makes two visits before licensing a foster home. At the first visit she checks to see whether the home meets state standards. If there are concerns, the social worker and applicants work together to try to make a mutually agreeable plan to ensure that the home will meet standards. At the second visit any concerns noted earlier will be rechecked to make sure that the home meets health, safety and comfort standards before licensing.
The licensing social worker also will interview you during these visits to learn about your background, current situation and lifestyle, your family, and your preferences and ideas about foster parenting. This will help the children’s social workers to better match children and foster families. Social workers also will make periodic visits by appointment after you are licensed.

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What safety requirements does my home have to meet?

All foster homes must meet state standards meant to ensure that they are comfortable, clean, safe, sanitary, and in good repair. Foster homes must:

Have a working smoke detector in the hallway outside each sleeping area. Securely lock up any firearms or weapons, and lock ammunition separately. Make the following items inaccessible to children: all dangerous items and toxic substances, including all medicines, garden and workshop chemicals, automotive fluids, household chemicals, and most cleansers. How these items are kept out of the children’s reach will depend on the ages of the children you care for and their abilities. Exceptions may be made to allow teenagers to have access to certain items. If the home has young children, electrical outlets should be covered and stairs must have gates at the top and bottom. Balcony railings and most fences may not have uncovered spaces more than four inches across between the balusters. Young children must be directly supervised by a responsible adult whenever they are outside unless there is a safe and properly fenced play area. Pools, hot tubs and other bodies of water must be properly fenced or have a locked cover if the home is licensed to care for children under 10 years of age, or if there is an older child in care with special needs which might make a body of water more hazardous to him/her.
At times other hazards or concerns are noted during a home visit. In this case, the social worker will discuss your options with you to ensure that your home will meet standards. You are responsible for any expenses involved in preparing your home. Please discuss your plans with us before investing a great deal of time or money in preparing your home for foster care.

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