Foster Parent Q&A

Here are 10 Questions Frequently Asked by Prospective and New Foster Parents. More FAQs can be found in The Foster Parent Handbook: A Guide to Alabama's Foster Parents. (PDF)

1. Are there laws that govern the care and responsibility of children who are at risk?
Definitely! Alabama law gives the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) the critical responsibility of seeking out and protecting children who are at risk. Foster Family Boarding Care is just one way of fulfilling that responsibility. The law gives DHR the task of recruiting, evaluating, and approving Foster Homes. In 1986, the laws were amended to require that all foster family home applicants have a thorough background check (including finger printing and state and FBI clearance) in order to better protect the children and the families involved in their care. In February 2000, a fingerprint law passed requiring adult members of foster families residing in the home and friends or neighbors involved in the care be fingerprinted.

2. What is my role as a foster parent?
It is obvious that foster parenting is more than providing a home for children. It is parenting at its most critical level. It is an acceptance of the total child, his/her problems and fears, as well as the child’s ability or inability to love. It is working in partnership with DHR in healing the child’s wounds (whether physical or emotional) and caring for his/her daily needs. And when the time comes, it is preparing the child for return to his/her birth parents or relatives, for adoption or independent living. Foster parenting is the work of parenting a child and caring for him/her until plans can be made for the child’s future.

3. What is the responsibility of the social worker?
The social worker represents DHR and has the responsibility for guiding the partners in decision-making concerning the child. As an employee of DHR, the social worker has the duty to plan for the child during the child’s foster placement.

Some of the responsibilities of the social worker include:
• Recruit foster care resources
• Complete home studies, annual re-evaluations and issue approvals
• Explain to Foster Parents the operating procedures of the County Department
• Plan orientation and training programs for foster parents
• Participate in delivery of an “Individualized Service Plan” with the child and/or his family
• Select a foster home that will meet the child’s needs
• Place the child in the foster home
• Arrange services for the child through the use of community resources
• Plan the child’s return to his/her birth parents or placement elsewhere
• Provide supportive services to the child and the foster parents
• Maintain case records
• Arrange and authorize the board payment to the foster parents for the care of the child

It is the Social Worker’s job to represent the child, the foster parents, the natural family and DHR. The Social Worker functions as a facilitator in meeting the needs of the child and all who are involved in helping the child. He/She understands that the nature of the work is to develop a partnership that works.

4. What is the ISP (Individual Service Plan) I’ve heard so much about?
The ISP [Individual Service Plan] is a plan that is created by a team: the age-appropriate child, the child’s parents, the child’s caseworker, and the foster parents (when children are in out-of-home care). It is tailored to the circumstances and needs of the particular child. It also takes into consideration the needs of our foster parent partners. Actually it is a plan for the delivery of services to children and families served by DHR. The ISP is a process driven document that undergoes changes as the needs of the child change. The social worker will discuss this plan with the foster parents.

5. Will I be given training so I will be successful as a foster parent?
Absolutely! DHR offers basic foster parent training to prospective as well as approved foster parents. Representatives of the County Department and a foster or adoptive parent usually conduct this training. Night sessions are scheduled whenever possible to encourage foster parents who are employed to attend. Frequently, experienced foster parents are asked to participate in the training of new foster parents, thereby, giving the new foster parents an opportunity to hear firsthand experiences of parenting foster children. Training for foster parents is mandatory. You will be able to meet and share ideas and experiences with other foster parents and become familiar with the policies and procedures of DHR. Participation in the training improves communication and partnership between DHR and foster parents and helps to prevent foster parent burnout. Specialized foster parent training is also provided for foster parents who provide care for children with exceptional needs. Children with special needs include those with physical handicaps, emotional problems, and mental retardation or behavior problems. If you are interested or would be willing to accept a child with special needs, contact your social worker. (Training will be provided as needed.)

6. What if I have a complaint?
Because conflicts between foster parents and the department do arise, a procedure is in place for addressing those conflicts. First, you must realize that your ideas and feelings are important and can be expressed freely. You will be listened to, and efforts will be made to improve or change practices and procedures as needed. Second, a “grievance” is defined as a complaint about the methods or ways services are provided to foster children in foster care homes (this includes, but is not limited to, services provided to foster care parents). A grievance may also include evaluations, approvals, or denials. If a problem related to services arises in a foster home and cannot be resolved by the foster parents and the social worker, the foster parent has the right to seek resolution by notifying the social worker’s immediate supervisor orally or in writing. It is the supervisor’s responsibility to collect pertinent information, make an evaluation, and review the decision with the foster parent. If the supervisor cannot resolve the problem or if the foster parent is dissatisfied with the action taken, the foster parent may request a review of the grievance by the County Director. After attempting to resolve the problem on the local level, the foster parent may choose to take the grievance up with the State Family Services Partnership. This may be done through written or oral contact directed to the Division of Family and Children’s Services. Any decision made by the Family Services Partnership is final.

7. What about insurance? What kind of coverage is DHR responsible for, and what am I responsible for?
  • Liability—Foster care providers, licensed or approved by DHR to maintain homes for a child or children, are covered by the State of Alabama General Liability Trust Fund. The fund provides basic liability indemnification for deaths, injury, or damage arising out of negligent or wrongful acts or omissions committed by a covered individual while in the performance of their duties in the line and scope of their employment.
  • Homeowners—DHR recommends that Foster Parents check with their insurance company to determine whether foster children are covered or can be covered under the present homeowner’s policy. Any premium incurred by such coverage is the responsibility of the foster parent. Also, foster parents may file a claim with the Board of Adjustment if damage occurs from the actions of a foster child. 
  • Automobile—The department cannot be responsible for car insurance for foster children. Alabama law requires that all automobiles have liability insurance. Any other coverage is optional at this time. If a foster child has a driver’s license and is allowed to drive your vehicle, you or the child will be financially responsible for the insurance. The child may work and earn money to pay for his/her insurance.

8. Is adoption of a foster child possible?
There are some foster children who cannot return to their birth family and for whom adoption by foster parents is the most appropriate plan. The decision as to whether or not the foster home will be considered as an adoptive home is a joint decision with the ISP team. The final plan for the child must be one which meets the child’s basic needs and assures the optimum longterm stability, permanence, and the healthiest adulthood. Factors considered in an adoption are: the emotional tie of the child to the foster parents; the age of the child in relation to the age of the foster parents; the length of time the child has been in the home; the potential problems associated with a child being annoyed by the biological family or other persons in the community; and the health and income of the foster parents. Foster parents are given first consideration when a child in the home becomes free for adoption. A foster parent interested in adoption of a child in his home should discuss his/her desire with the child’s caseworker.

9. Everyone has a different approach to discipline. What are the steps I should follow in making sure my foster child is disciplined properly? Is it okay to spank the child?
It is never acceptable to slap, strike, or hit a child. It is never acceptable to hit a child with a fist. It is never acceptable to shake the child. It is never acceptable to use a chemical, drug, or mechanical restraint on a child. The Minimum Standards for Foster Family Homes specifically prohibits these types of punishments.

Foster children need the security that develops from being an accepted part of the foster family. This means sharing and participating in the family’s activities, doing chores, obeying the rules and receiving discipline when it is needed. Being consistent and correcting a child’s unacceptable behavior in a positive manner is the key to success.

Foster parents should remember that children coming to their home might be coming against their will. They may be confused, frightened, angry or hostile. Their feelings may be expressed through aggressive behavior or indifference to their surroundings. All children are different. It is important that you allow the child to express his or her feelings.

Discipline methods will be discussed with your social worker during the initial evaluation of the home. You should not hesitate to contact the caseworker whenever you are in doubt about how to deal with a behavior problem. Because each child is different, different methods are needed to train and discipline each of them. Certainly, the type of discipline should depend on the child’s age, the offense and the method that might be most effective with that child.

10. How will I know when to ask for help?
The challenges of being a foster parent in the twenty-first century can impact the entire family in many ways. Stresses and strains of normal life are only amplified when one takes up the challenge. That is why the Department of Human Resources views the work you do with sincere appreciation. We view our work together as a team effort, and we want to be there for you when life is going well and when life is going not so well. We are committed to your entire family. We are a team. That is why we need to be informed every step of the way. We are here to counsel, to rescue, to reach out to the community on your behalf, and to insure that you have the support you need. Therefore, we urge you to never be reluctant to contact DHR about any matter. No one on our team will be considered inadequate or have to shoulder blame. We are all in this endeavor together. This is about the children who are at risk; it is not about pointing fingers. There is no question that cannot be asked. We know how difficult some of the children can be. We are aware of the impact foster parenting can have on the entire family. Your social worker is your lifeline in planning for the child. It is your right and responsibility to keep us informed and request the assistance you need when you need it.


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