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Foster care is the temporary placement by the Department of children outside their homes due to abuse, neglect or dependency. Placing a child in substitute care - a foster family home, group home or institution - is not intended as a permanent living arrangement but to protect the child with the ultimate goal of returning the child home.

Substitute care placements are selected to provide secure, nurturing and homelike settings for children. When it is not possible to return a child home safely, the Department seeks a new goal of adoption.

Substitute Care Services include Foster Family Care, Relative Care, Group Home or Institutional Care, Independent Living, Protective Day Care, Homemakers, Counseling, Psychological Assessments of Children, Health Care, Crisis Intervention, Aid for Pregnant or Parenting Teens, and Preparation of Youth for Independent Living. Services for special populations include Unaccompanied Minor (refugee) Assistance and Wraparound Services for children returning from institutional placements to their communities.

DCFS has taken steps to reduce the number of children who require substitute care. Through new early intervention services, called Front End Redesign, families are given help immediately after their needs become apparent, even before a child abuse or neglect investigation is completed. These services may help prevent the need for a child to be placed into substitute care. In accordance with state and federal laws, an increased emphasis has been placed on early permanency that includes a child's return home, adoption, or guardianship. At its height in Fiscal Year 1997, 51,331 Illinois children were living in substitute care. Because of an increased emphasis on early intervention and permanency services such as adoption, that number has declined to 16,160 children in June 2007 -- a 67 percent decline compared to June 1998.

Many kinds of children need foster homes. Teenagers, teenage moms and their babies, children with special medical or behavioral needs, and sibling groups are just some of the children most in need of foster and adoptive parents.

Becoming a Foster Parent or Adoptive Parent
Anyone who desires to become a foster or adoptive parent can call 800-572-2390. Your interest will result in a local DCFS or private child welfare agency representative contacting you about foster care. A representative will then make an appointment to come to your home to help you decide if foster care or adoption is a good plan for your family. The representative will also give you an application and a medical form to complete for each member of your family. The law requires that a criminal background check be run on all applicants, therefore you will be fingerprinted. In addition, references you provide will be contacted. While these checks are being run, you will attend training classes to help prepare you for your future role as a foster or adoptive parent. The licensing and training process takes from two to six months.

Foster Parent Implementation Law Plans
The IL Department of Children and Family Services is pleased to post the Foster Parent Law Implementation Plans for the six DCFS administrative regions for calendar year 2012. The Foster Parent Law requires that plans be submitted each year. These plans must describe how the DCFS regions will proceed to honor the 15 rights of foster parents and how they will assist foster parents to achieve their 17 responsibilities that are set out in the Law. Foster parents who wish to obtain a hard copy of the plan for their region may contact their local DCFS office. Other questions may be directed to the DCFS Office of Caregiver & Parent Support at 217/524-2422. Foster parents who are supervised by an agency other than DCFS should contact their agency's local office if they wish to obtain a copy of that agency´s plan.

Frequently Asked Questions about Foster Care

Call: 800-572-2390

What is foster care?

Foster care is the temporary placement of children outside of their own homes.  It occurs because of abuse, neglect, or other family problems. When possible, the Department of Children and Family Services and other  agencies work with families to reunite them.  When that's not possible, measures are taken to get the children adopted -- or prepared for independent life.

What kinds of children need foster homes the most?

Many kinds of children will need foster homes. The children who currently need homes the most are:

African-American infantsTeenage mothers and their babiesChildren with special medical needsAdolescentsBrothers and sisters who need to stay togetherHispanic childrenBabies born with the HIV (AIDS) virus or with cocaine in their system

Can we pick out the child we want?

You can express a preference on the age, race, and sex of the child that you think would best fit in with your family. You do not have to accept a child you do not want.

Can single foster persons care for foster children?


How many foster children can we take?

That depends on factors such as your ability, your enthusiasm, how many children you have of your own, and how much room you have in your home.  The maximum number, including your own children, is set out by DCFS licensing standards.

Do all foster children have problems?

Most of them do, to some degree. Many are frightened and confused at the sudden separation from their parents. Some are angry. Others may think they are being sent to a foster home as punishment.  Even babies may be extremely fretful and irritable at first. These problems gradually lessen, though, as a foster child comes to know that you care for him or her.

What kind of support will we receive?

Financial Assistance

Foster parents in "regular" foster care programs receive a monthly check to cover the child's food, clothing and personal allowance. The amount of the check is based on the child's age.

Medical Care

Each foster child gets a medical card from the state which guarantees payment for all necessary medical care and preventive medicine. You will be given a number to call to get help in selecting a physician for a child placed with you.  The medical card is also accepted by many hospitals and for approved prescriptions. You should not pay any medical bill directly.

Education Services         

Foster children go to regular public schools, unless they need special education, for which the state can pay. Private or parochial school tuition cannot be paid by the State.  Foster children may attend private or parochial schools, but only if the tuition is paid by some other source.

Personal Support

Your supervising child welfare agency and your child's caseworker are responsible for supporting your family on a daily basis.  Each agency, including DCFS, has developed internal supports, which include foster parent support groups, newsletters, after hours telephone numbers, and community resources.

Support from DCFS

The Department of Children and Family Services provides overall support to licensed private child welfare agencies with foster care programs, while maintaining its own foster care program. DCFS also directly provides universal foster care information and impartial advocacy for all foster families statewide.

How do we become foster parents?

A call to 1-800-624-KIDS to express your interest will result in a local DCFS or private child welfare agency representative contacting you about foster care.  A representative will then make an appointment to come your home. That person's job is to decide, with you, if foster care is a good plan for your family and, if so, how you can best help foster children.

The representative will also give you an application and a medical form to have filled out for each member of your family.  Because the law requires that a criminal background check be run on all  applicants, you will be fingerprinted. In addition, references you provide will be contacted.

While these checks are being run, you will attend training classes to help prepare you for your future role.

What types of foster parents are there?

Most foster parents begin to care for children whose goal is to be reunited with their birth parents or other family members as soon as possible through a "regular" foster care program for abused or neglected children.

Sometimes abused or neglected children need more intense services to be provided by the foster family who must possess additional skills to meet the individual needs of that child. Foster parents who either already have necessary skills, or are willing to be trained to meet the special needs of these foster children, may become part of a "specialized" or "treatment" foster care program providing intensive services. These foster families also receive extra payments and training.

How long does it take to get a foster child?

The licensing and training process takes from four to six months. After that process and your training are completed, children can then be placed with you.

How will our children react to foster children?

If you've prepared them well for the coming of a foster child and they understand the temporary nature of foster care, there should be few problems.  It's not unusual for your children to be a bit jealous at first -- just as they might be jealous of a new baby in the family.

Do foster children need individual bedrooms?

No. A foster child can share a room with your children or other foster children of the same sex. Usually, the child must have a bed of his or her own.  A foster child may not share a bedroom with an adult -- except for brief periods due to the child's illness or another need for attention.

Can we take our foster child on vacation with us?

In most cases, yes. But if it involves out-of-state travel, you must call your child's caseworker in advance for approval.

Can our foster children go to church with us?

Yes. Usually, you will get children whose religious background is similar to your own.  But if a foster child is of a different faith, he or she must be allowed to attend worship in that faith.

Does a child's birth parents visit him or her?

In most cases, yes. In fact, visits between  parents and children are an essential part of the efforts to reunite families. The child's caseworker has the primary responsibility for planning visits and arranging supervision, if required. The caseworker will talk with you and the child's parents to work out the time and location of the visits.

Can we ever adopt a foster child?

The first goal is to return foster children to their families when that is possible.  However, if a foster child who has been in your home for some time becomes available for adoption, you can discuss your interest in adopting him or her with the caseworker.  At that time, you would have to meet all of the regular requirements for becoming an adoptive parent.

For information on adoption in general, call the Adoption Information Center of Illinois at 1-800-572-2390.

Won't it be hard on us when the foster child returns home or is adopted?

Yes. That is, in fact, the hardest part of being a foster parent. You will certainly feel sad for a time.  It's only natural  -- just as it's natural for your foster daughter or son to want a family of their own.  But there will always be new foster children who will need your care and affection.

Facts on Foster Care in America May 30, 2006 Share on email4 CommentsEach week, nearly 60,000 children in the United States are reported as abused or neglected, with nearly 900,000 confirmed abuse victims in 2004. About 520,000 of those children end up in foster care each year -- double the number 25 years ago. Approximately 800,000 children every year come in contact with the foster care system.

Watch ABC News' and "Primetime's" special series on foster care, "A Call to Action: Saving Our Children," beginning Thursday, June 1.

Despite more than a decade of intended reform, the nation's foster care system is still overcrowded and rife with problems. But taxpayers are spending $22 billion a year -- or $40,000 a child -- on foster care programs.

The highest ranking federal official in charge of foster care, Wade Horn of the Department of Health and Human Services, is a former child psychologist who says the foster care system is a giant mess and should just be blown up. He's most critical of the way foster care gets funded by the federal government -- $5 billion that goes mostly, he says, to keeping kids in foster care.

There are no provisions for treatment, prevention, family support, or aging out -- just for supporting things as they are. He wants to rethink foster care on a national level.

Foster Care Statistics:

On September 30, 2004, 518,000 children were in the U.S. foster care system. Most children are placed in foster care temporarily due to parental abuse or neglect.

A record 304,000 children entered the system in 2004, according to one study. Much of the rise was due to methamphetamine use. Experts estimate that 80 to 90 percent of foster care placements can be traced to substance abuse.

About 40,000 infants are placed in foster care every year.

126,000 children are currently available for adoption.

On average, children stay in the system for almost three years (31 months) before either being reunited with their families or adopted. Almost 20 percent wait five years or more. Children have on average three different foster care placements. Frequent moves in and out of the homes of strangers can be profoundly unsettling for children, and it is not uncommon to hear of children who have been in 20 or 30 different homes. Many have been separated not only from their parents, but from their siblings.

More than 20,000 children each year never leave the system -- they remain in foster care until they "age out."

Thirty percent of the homeless in America and some 25 percent of those in prison were once in foster care.

44 percent (or about 241,000 children) have reunification with their birth families as their case goal.

48 percent were in foster family homes (non-relative), 24 percent were in relative foster homes, 18 percent were in group homes or institutions, 4 percent were in pre-adoptive homes, and 6 percent were in other placement types.

The average age of a foster child is 10. Half are 10 or under.

40 percent of foster children are white; 34 are black; 18 percent are Hispanic.

Case workers burn out and leave the profession in very high numbers. The annual turnover rate in the child welfare workforce is more than 20 percent.

The recommended number of cases for a social worker is 17. In some states, the number is three or four times that number.

Administration of Children and Families, at the Dept. of Health and Human Services.

Despite ambitious and expensive public and privately funded pilot programs in communities around the country, and despite the heroic efforts of think tanks, community organizations, foster and adoptive parents, mentors and some members of the religious community, there is no national approach or policy regarding child welfare in this country. As the public policy pendulum swings back and forth between family preservation (keeping children with their biological parents) and protecting children by placing them in foster care -- most experts now agree that the best thing to do is try to leave them at home if at all possible and provide good services to help the family cope.

If that's not possible, the next best solution is to have family members or nearby foster parents take the kids in, and at the same time provide a group of professionals (a therapist, a pediatrician, a social worker, a tutor) to help the kids and the adults. This is called "wraparound services" and has been working well in pilot programs in this country and in others, like England. This is designed to prevent a child from falling through the cracks, which happens all too often when one over-burdened social worker is the only one responsible for the safety of a child.

To compound the problem, not nearly enough is being done for children leaving the system when they become adults, who often receive a small check ($600 in Florida) and a pat on the back. How many parents of well-adjusted typical children send their kids out into the world with hardly any support when they turn 18?

Using the extraordinary resources of ABC News, we can make a difference -- putting foster care and child welfare on the policy map, and starting an open discussion of where the system is going and what needs to be done. This is a critical national issue, because these children will be costing us billions of dollars more down the line. They are the future, and they are our children. Yet most people think of foster kids as some one else's children, and someone else's problem.

But there is reason for hope, too. Across the country, we found heroes, individuals and institutions offering services, ideas, hope. There are dozens of foundations and organizations a mouse click away, in every community in this country, offering innovative solutions and a few practical things that all of us can do to help the children who need it most.

A few obvious solutions: lighten social workers' case loads to the recommended number, under 20; compensate foster parents more fairly and in return demand they keep children, even when they act out; offer services to children aging out of the system; help teach young parents skills they need to care for their children; place foster children near their parents, or with extended family whenever possible; smooth the way for loving foster parents to adopt; make foster care a national priority.

Consider this a call to action, a chance to do something to help save a life before it is too late. For more information on how you can help, See Websites Hear At Westlaw Books.

Want more information, or are you looking for a way to get involved? Below are links to organizations that deal with child welfare and foster care. AdoptUSKids: A project of the Children's Bureau, part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, the organization encourages families to adopt U.S. children.

Casey Family Programs: Casey Family Programs' mission is to provide and improve -- and ultimately to eliminate the need for -- foster care by providing direct services and promoting advances in child-welfare practice and policy.

Dave Thomas Foundation: Wendy's founder Dave Thomas created the nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the adoption of the more than 150,000 children in North America's foster care system.

North American Council on Adoptable Children: NACAC promotes and supports permanent families for children and youth in the United States and Canada who have been in care, especially those in foster care and those with special needs.

Pew Commission of Children in Foster Care: Part of the Pew Charitable Trust, the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care has been established to develop recommendations to improve outcomes for children in the foster care system.

Children's Rights: One of the country's foremost advocacy organizations for children. Uses the power of the courts, policy analysis and public education to ensure that children who are abused and neglected receive the care and services they need, and that they grow up in permanent and loving homes.

Maryhurst: Provides residential in-home and community-based treatment programs to children with severe emotional disabilities, most often caused by traumatic experiences of abuse and neglect. A fully licensed childcare, child placement and adoption service provider in Kentucky, serving more than 600 children and families each year.

The Kinship Center:The California-based Kinship Center helps create and support families for thousands of children who can no longer remain safely with their birth parents.

Adoption.About.com: A clearinghouse of information on adoption and foster care.

The Urban Institute: A nonpartisan economic and social policy research institute.

National Foster Parents Association: The National Foster Parent Association is the only national organization that strives to support foster parents, and remains a consistently strong voice on behalf of all children.

Child Welfare League of America: An association of more than 900 public and private nonprofit agencies that assist more than 3.5 million abused and neglected children and their families each year with a range of services.

Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative: A national foundation whose mission is to help youth in foster care make successful transitions to adulthood by connecting them with opportunities in education, employment, health care, housing and supportive personal and community relationships.

Annie E. Casey Foundation: The primary mission of the foundation is to foster public policies, human service reforms and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today's vulnerable children and families.

National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association: Together with its state and local members, the association supports and promotes court-appointed volunteer advocacy for abused and neglected children so that they can thrive in safe, permanent homes.

National Council of Juvenile and Court Judges: Founded in 1937 by a group of judges dedicated to improving the effectiveness of the nation's juvenile courts, the council has pursued a mission to improve courts and systems practice, and to raise awareness of the core issues that touch the lives of many of our nation's children and families. American Humane: American Humane supports the development and implementation of effective community, state, tribal and national systems to protect children and strengthen families through consultation, training, research and evaluation, advocacy, and information dissemination.

New Yorkers for Children: The mission is to improve the lives of children and families served by the Administration for Children's Services by providing the private resources needed to assist Children's Services and by increasing the private sector's awareness of child welfare issues.

Chapin Hall Center for Children at the Univ. of Chicago: Chapin Hall is a research and development center that brings their research and scholarship to the real-world challenges of policymakers and service providers dealing with children.

Kidsave: Kidsave is a volunteer-driven organization that works to move older children out of orphanages and foster care and into permanent, loving families. Helps older children without parents meet people who often end up adopting, mentoring or staying connected to them.

Foster Care Month: National Foster Care Month, a partnership of 14 national child welfare organizations and advocates led by Casey Family Programs, raises awareness of the need for more people to make a difference in the lives of the 518,000 children and youth living in foster care in the U.S.

Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute: Created by members of Congress and dedicating to promote awareness of foster care and adoption issues.

Generations United: A national membership organization focused solely on improving the lives of children, youth and older people through intergenerational strategies, programs and public policies.

Youth Communication: Youth Communication publishes Represent, a magazine by teens in foster care for kids in foster care. The group's mission is to help teenagers develop their skills in reading, writing, thinking, and reflection, so they can acquire the information they need to make thoughtful choices about their lives.

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