What is Foster Care? All Your Foster Care Questions Answered


Are you interested in learning more about being a foster parent? In this article we’ll answer some of the questions you may have, like what is foster care and how it works, how many children are in foster care in our area, and how many age out of the system without finding a permanent home.

Read on to find answers about this challenging, fulfilling, and important work!

Treatment Foster Care

UMFS Treatment Foster Care (TFC) offers individualized treatment for children and teens who are being placed out of home and have special emotional, behavioral, or medical needs. Our youth and families are supported by a collaborative team of specially trained clinical staff and foster parents, who provide daily behavioral health interventions that align with each child’s individualized treatment plan.

What is Foster Care?

Foster care is a temporary living situation for children and teens whose parents can’t take care of them and whose need for care has come to the attention of a child welfare agency.

How Many Children Are in Foster Care?

There are currently more than 5,000 children and teens in foster care in Virginia.

How Old Are Foster Children?

Children in the foster care system can be anywhere from newborn to 20 years of age, although many are teens. In Virginia, 48% of children in foster care are 13 years or older.

How Does Foster Care Work?

Local Departments of Social Services work with accredited child and family services agencies like UMFS to place children who are unable to remain with their parents with a designated foster parent or foster family.

Foster parents provide all the resources and care a birth parent would for a child for any period from a few weeks to several years.

Foster parents receive a tax-free monthly maintenance payment to cover the basic costs of caring for children. Agencies such as UMFS also provide training and support for foster parents depending on the needs of their foster children.

What Types of Foster Care Are There?

Foster care services fall into three main categories:

Kinship Care

This is when a child or sibling group is cared for by:

  • Relatives like grandparents, aunts or uncles, cousins
  • Other members of their larger kin group, tribe, or clan
  • Non-related godparents, stepparents, or other adults (such as a neighbor, family friend, teacher, or coach) who have a relationship with the child’s birth family

Traditional Foster Care

This is where individuals who meet the requirements volunteer to care for children who are in state custody for an indeterminate amount of time, ideally until the child or children are able to:

  • Reunite with their birth family
  • Be permanently adopted
  • Be taken into kinship care

Therapeutic or Treatment Foster Care

Many children taken into foster care have additional needs that must be addressed in combination with the provision of traditional foster care or kinship care. These needs may include:

  • Medical or physical conditions
  • Behavioral conditions
  • Emotional stress (from abuse, neglect, or family separation)

These children are ideally cared for in programs where parents receive additional support and training. For example, UMFS’s Foster Treatment Care Program is designed for teens or sibling groups with significant emotional and behavioral challenges. 

How Many Kids Age Out of Foster Care?

Foster care is meant to be a temporary solution. Children who are unable to return to their birth families or find another permanent home through adoption age out of the foster system at 18 years of age.

In Virginia, 18% of those leaving the foster care system each year are considered to have aged out—one of the highest percentages in the nation.

These young people are now adults but often lack the financial resources, education, and support networks they should have. Many risk becoming homeless, getting pregnant, or suffering other serious setbacks in their first few months of independence.

How Do I Become A Foster Parent?

Providing a home for a child or a sibling group in need can be a rewarding experience, but it can also be very challenging. To be a foster parent it’s crucial not only that you can house a child or children and support them financially, but that you have both the time and emotional space to support their needs.

More specific requirements include that you:

  • Are at least 21 years old
  • Have a valid driver’s license and reliable transportation
  • Are able to provide personal references
  • Are willing to provide detailed financial and medical information

In order to be considered for approval as a foster parent or family, applicants must also:  

  • Attend an information session to understand general prerequisites
  • Complete 25 hours of pre-service training
  • Complete a home study and paperwork
  • Complete CPR and first aid training.

This process typically takes between four and six months.

Why Become a Foster Parent Through UMFS?

Within UMFS’ treatment foster care program, expert staff work closely with foster parents to care for older children and siblings with particular behavioral, physical, and emotional needs. Typically, these children have:

  • Been in the foster care system for many years
  • Already experienced multiple placements
  • Experienced separation from their natural support systems

To meet these needs and provide effective care, foster parents in the program are provided with both initial and ongoing education, with specific training focusing on: 

  • Trauma-informed care
  • The Whole-Brain Child
  • Collaborative Problem-solving
  • High Fidelity Wrap-Around Services

Parents are also offered 24/7 support, continuing mentorship, group support, and access to respite periods during foster placements.

Is Foster Care Right for You?

Becoming a foster parent is a major commitment. While it will test your physical and emotional resources, there are few other ways you can have a larger impact on a young person’s life. Foster families are badly needed, both in Virginia and across the United States. Young people who are in care or without a permanent home face great challenges across our nation.

Click below to read further about the need for foster care and the impact you could have as a foster parent!