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Foster Care

Making a Difference

Foster Care

Christie Markham
Social Worker III
Foster Care Licensing

What is Foster Care?

Foster care happens when Social Services decides that a child is not safe in his or her home (and a judge agrees) but the parents do not have anywhere else to send the child. The child is then placed in foster care temporarily while the parents get services and make their home a safe place for their child to return to.

Fostering Perspectives Newsletter
Are you interested in becoming a Foster or Adoptive Parent?


  • you are interested in providing a safe and loving home to a child;
  • you have patience and wisdom to share;
  • you are willing to learn about fostering or adoption;

then you could be a wonderful parent for a child who truly needs you!

Licensing Requirements for Foster or Adoption

Foster or adoptive parents must be ready to give a child or children opportunities to develop to their full potential - physically, academically, socially and emotionally - with realistic expectations and unconditional support and love. That is the most important requirement.

Adoption Requirements:

  • You must be at least 18 to become an adoptive parent.
  • You can adopt if you are single, married, divorced or widowed; own or rent; have parenting experience or none at all; already have children in your home or not.
If you meet these basic qualifications, then you're off to a great start!
Adoptive applicants will be finger printed and have a criminal record check completed. While NC law does not specify the number of training hours to become an adoptive parent, most adoption agencies provide training to those who want to be foster or adoptive parents.

Foster Care Requirements:

  • The minimum age to become a foster parent is 21.
  • You can foster if you are single, married, divorced or widowed; own or rent; have parenting experience or none at all; already have children in your home or not.
  • Like adoptive applicants, foster applicants will also be finger printed and have a criminal record check completed.
You will need to complete all required training and be licensed as a foster parent. To do this, you will attend 30 hours of preparatory training called Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting/Group Preparation and Selection (MAPP/GPS). Many other families, like yourself, will also participate in the classes, and you will be able to learn from each others' experiences.

Does it Cost to Foster or Adopt?

You can work with your county department of social services or a licensed private agency to foster or adopt for free.

Parent Support Groups

North Carolina Foster and Adoptive Parent Association
NCFAPA is a statewide organization of adoptive, foster and kinship parents, child welfare professionals and child advocates who promote quality foster and adoptive services through collaborative advocacy, education, resources and networking. For more information, visit their website at: NCFAPA can also be contacted at PO Box 26170, Greensboro NC 27402-6170 or via email at

Family Support Network (FSN-NC)
The FSN locations across the state provide support and information to families caring for children with special needs and for those individuals serving families. Call toll free 1-800-852-0042 or visit for more information.

Post-adoption Services:
Post-adoption services are provided to families of adoptive children. These services may include referrals for mental health assessment and treatment, family counseling, and other services to enhance or preserve and adoptive placement. For more information about post-adoptive services please contact the Alexander County DSS and ask to speak with an adoption worker.

Agency Contact and Orientation Information

Once the county location of your family is determined, NC Kids will provide you with a list of private agencies that contract with the state of North Carolina, as well as the contact person at your local county department of social services.


LINKS is a federally funded program for youth between the ages 13-20 who are currently in or have been in foster care. LINKS is designed to build a network of services essential to youth becoming self-sufficient, productive members of the community. Areas of focus for youth participating in the LINKS program include developing supportive and positive relationships with family, friends, employers, opportunities for furthering their education, financial assistance and other resources to facilitate their transition to adulthood.

LINKS Transitional Living funds can be used for such things as:

  • Graduation Incentive
  • School trips and activities
  • Fees for College Applications
  • SAT and ACT Fees
  • Tutoring

LINKS Transitional Housing funds from the state can used for:

  • Rent
  • Rent deposits

Please contact the Alexander County Department of Social Services
828-632-1080 for more information about the LINKS program.

How Long Do Children Stay in Foster Care?

This varies tremendously. If an appropriate relative can be found, the child may be on foster care for only a short while. If not, the child may be in foster care for a year or more - depending on how quickly the parents can complete their services. At around a year, if the parents are not doing what has been required, the judge will start to look for a different plan for the child such as Guardianship to a Relative or Adoption.


Adopting an infant in the U.S. can be done 4 ways and there are pros and cons to each path depending upon what your family's interests are. They are outlined below and hopefully will be helpful to you in making your decision.

The first possibility is INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION. This is adoption through an agency. The major benefit to this is that you essentially "get in line and wait". The major concerns are the cost (which is generally upward of $20,000) and there is often little to no information about the birth family. Children are rarely released under 6 months, which is a factor for some families.

The second is PRIVATE DOMESTIC ADOPTION. This is also adoption through an agency. The major benefits to this are that (for most agencies now) the birth mother chooses you and, therefore, you can feel very confident that she wants her child with you in particular. There is often a reasonable amount of health history as well which is very important. The biggest concern for most families is the cost. There is also a fair degree of uncertainty about the placement until after the child is born, relinquishments are signed, and the revocation period has passed. The child is still the birth parents' child (rightfully so!) and they are able to change their mind until that point.

The third is ATTORNEY ADOPTION. This is where you connect with a birth mother either on your own or with the help of a facilitator and finalize the adoption with the help of an attorney. The benefit to this, like with Private Domestic Adoption, is that the birth parents are likely to be comfortable with you being their child's family and also that you are likely to get a fairly comprehensive health history. The concerns of this include price again (although this is often less expensive than agency adoptions), the degree of uncertainty for any given placement, and also that, due to the lack of regulations around it, scams are often not caught as quickly.

The fourth is PUBLIC DOMESTIC ADOPTION (i.e. the Foster Care System). These are the children who are in the legal custody of the state due to abuse or neglect from their birth family. (In some rare cases, the parents have died or are too ill but these are the exceptions.) These children are all ages, races, and temperaments. The primary benefit to adopting through the Foster Care System is that foster children are children who really, really need loving homes. In addition, some foster children qualify for Adoption Assistance (i.e. money paid to you) after the adoption finalizes and until they turn 18. Some of the concerns to adopting through the foster care system are that the families vary in how much health history they are able to provide and that many of these children have been treated in ways that make it difficult for them to trust again.

Within Public Domestic Adoption (i.e. the Foster Care System), there are TWO WAYS to adopt.
One Option is to pay an agency to put together a "PPA" (Pre-Placement Assessment) of your family. The benefit to this is that it will cost you far less than agency or attorney Adoptions. The limitation of paying for a PPA as a way to adoption is that it will only allow you to adopt children in the Foster Care System who are "fully cleared for adoption" - meaning that their birth parents' rights have been completely terminated by the courts. Because of the length of time that this process takes, these children tend to be older. They may also be a part of a sibling group or may have more significant behavioral problems. Many children who become legally cleared for adoption while in foster care will be adopted by their foster parents.

Another Option is to become a foster parent. This way there is comparatively little cost to you (although you are required to attend a class and do a fair amount of paperwork). Again, almost all of these children will qualify for Adoption Assistance should they become available for adoption. Children placed with foster parents range in age from newborns up to age 17. For most foster children, it is important to realize that the plan goal almost always starts as Reunification with the Birth Family. The family then has 365 days to meet the requirements of the court. Should they not be able to meet those goals (thus allowing the child to return home safely), the plan goal is changed - usually either to Guardianship with a Relative or Adoption (although there are also other options). As a foster parent, you are required to support the plan goal, whatever that is at the time. Your "job" is to help the child get through this very difficult time in his/her life. However, in cases where the plan does change to adoption, the foster families are given high priority to adopt. Lastly, there is a large population of children in foster care whose plan goal has changed to adoption but who are not yet legally cleared for adoption. These are called "legal risk" placements and also require you to be a licensed foster parent. However, there is no need for you to support Reunification in these cases - although it is in the best interest of the children to have some type of safe connection to their birth families (for example a Life Book). Although this population rarely includes infants, it does open up a much larger population of children than when one solely focuses on children who are fully cleared for adoption. It is important to remember, however, that there is still the chance that the plan of adoption may change (a much lower chance, but still a possibility).

Many people decide to become foster parents so that they can help children while they wait for the perfect adoptive situation to come along for them - or simply because they cannot afford to adopt in any other way. It is a wonderful, meaningful, important service but it is not a good match for every family. Please take the time to consider this carefully because, as foster parents, it is important that your family be able to support whatever the child's plan goal is - and to help the child through this understandably confusing and difficult time in his/her life. You may not be able to make up your mind right away. The MAPP (Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) class, which is a part of the licensing process, is also meant to help you make an informed decision about fostering. The class is free (and there are no tests!) so you can attend even if you are not sure that this is the way you want to go.However, there are many agencies who license foster parents and it is important for you to take the class with the agency that feels the most comfortable for you. Licensing directly with the county DSS will increase your likelihood that you will get called for younger children (the DSS will call their families first before seeing if other agencies have an appropriate family) but a county DSS is not generally able to coordinate with other counties in NC (there are 100). Other agencies may be better equipped to do so.

MAPP Schedule

MAPP classes are held in the Spring and in the Fall. Contact DSS to get the schedule.

Helpful Links