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Department of Human Services

Sonoma County Foster Care

Frequently Asked Questions


What is foster parenting?

A way to make a positive impact on a child’s life. Foster parents provide a safe, loving, nurturing temporary home for children unable to stay safely with their 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.

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

  • Do you have the time, patience and energy to care for a foster child?
  • Can you love and care for a child who has come from a different background than yours?
  • Can you help a child develop a sense of belonging in your home even though the stay may be temporary?
  • Can you love a child who, because of fear of rejection, may not easily love you back?
  • Can you be flexible in your parenting style to meet the needs of each child?
  • Can you set clear limits and be both firm and understanding in your discipline?
  • Can you accept assistance and guidance from the team involved in each child’s life including social workers, attorneys, medical professionals, and the birth family?
  • Can you maintain a positive attitude toward a child's parents, even though many of the problems the child experiences are a result of the parent's actions?
  • Are you willing and able to take a child to counseling sessions, doctor's appointments, visits with family, court hearings and other regular appointments?
  • Can you advocate for a child and participate as a part of their support team?
  • Can you commit to a child with all your heart and then let go knowing that the investment you've made in their life is priceless?

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.

What is the foster parent's role?

Foster parents provide a supportive, stable family and home. They truly care about the children and youth and help them heal from trauma and loss. Foster parents are part of the child’s team, along with social workers, the child’s family, attorneys, medical personnel and other professionals. The goal of foster care is to reunite children and birth parents if this can be done safely. Most foster children have supervised or unsupervised visits regularly with their parents while in care. Foster parents have the time and transportation to bring the child to these visits. Foster parents frequently become mentors, helping birth parents learn to safely care for their children. We hope the foster family and birth family can work together for the benefit of the child. If the child cannot return safely to the birth parents, foster parents help prepare the child to live with relatives or in an adoptive home. Sometimes foster parents have the opportunity 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. Older children and youth often go first to the County emergency shelter, the Valley of the Moon Children’s Home, before going to a foster home in the community. All children are assessed for developmental, behavioral and health concerns and treated as needed.

How long will the child stay in my home?

This varies. Some children are in care for a few days before returning to their birth parents or going to live with relatives. Some are reunited with their birth parents after a a few months, a year or more. Children and youth who cannot safely return home may become eligible for adoption. If an adoptive home is not found, children may remain in a foster home for a longer period of time.

What if I want to adopt a child?

It takes time to know if a child moved from an unsafe home will be unable to return. While working to reunite the child and birth family, the social worker makes an alternative plan for the child if reunification is not possible. The preferred plans mean the child will live with relatives, be adopted or live with a legal guardian. Foster parents may be considered for a child’s adoption or other alternative permanent plan. Most adoptive families serve first as a child’s foster family.

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

Some foster parents have a child placed in their home immediately upon becoming licensed, while others may wait for a placement that is a good match. There are several criteria for what makes a good foster family match, including whether the foster parents speak Spanish or can care for special needs children, older children and teens and sibling groups.

May I choose the child I want?

Foster families may request children by age and gender based on who would be the best match for their situation. Those preferences are taken into consideration when matching children and foster families. The social worker will discuss the child's situation with the foster family first.

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

Emergency foster family take children in immediately so do not meet the child ahead of time. In other cases, the family can visit with the child a few times before placement. These visits make the transition to the foster home easier for everyone.

Will the birth parents know where I live?

No. We do not give foster parents’ full names and address information to birth parents. Foster families can choose to share this information if a relationship develops with the birth parents.

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

Loving families are diverse. 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's best to wait to become a foster parent 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. Landlords or property owners must  agree to your plan to have children in the home.

Am I too old to be a foster parent?

Older parents in good health make good foster parents. Foster parenting can be busy and your energy needed day and night. Children may go to school or activities, medical or therapy appointments and visits with family. Young children may need attention throughout the night.

Can I be a foster parent if I work?

Yes. Some children do well in foster homes without a stay-at-home parent, while others need someone available throughout the day. If you work, a flexible schedule is helpful since Foster parents must provide transportation for regular family visits, medical or counseling appointments, and other needs.

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

No. Two children may share a bedroom, though each child needs his/her own bed. A girl and a boy may not share a room unless they are both four years of age or younger. 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.

Who pays for the child’s living expenses?

Foster parents receive a monthly payment from Sonoma County as reimbursement for the children’s basic living expenses. The rate varies depending on the child’s age and any special needs. You must already have sufficient income to support yourself and your family.

Do foster children have medical insurance?

Yes. 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. Some foster parents enroll the foster child in their group insurance plan. If you are a Kaiser member, ask the business office if it will accept Medi-Cal for your foster child.

Is other support available?

Children in foster care are surrounded by caring adults. You will work with a team of social workers, medical professionals, attorneys and others to meet the needs of the children and to ensure you have the resources and support to care for them. Each child is assigned 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?

In the majority of situations, yes. However, if a child wishes,s/he should be able to attend services for their own faith. Discuss this with the child's social worker. 

Will I ever get to see the children again?

Often foster parents do see the children after they leave their home. Sometimes foster and birth parents develop a positive relationship which continues after a child returns home. Some foster and adoptive parents remain part of each others’ lives. Some former foster parents babysit the child and attend family birthday parties. Older foster children may visit often and remain members of your family.  

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

If the child has brought into foster care or if you suspect she/he may be abused or neglected, call county Child Protective Services. In Sonoma County, call the hotline day or night at  (707) 565-4300 or (800) 870-7064.

Can I place a foster child in day care?

Yes. By law, foster children may not stay home alone, except for some teenagers and for limited periods of time. Unfortunately, funding is not available to cover child care, although foster children are often eligible for subsidized child care programs.

The Redwood Empire Foster Parent Association provides some respite care funding to members who are Emergency Foster Parents. These foster parents may need 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. Many of foster parents who get to know each other exchange child care between themselves.

Trained volunteers are needed to be approved by Sonoma County to provide respite care for foster parents. Financial arrangements are between the foster parent and the respite provider. Call (707) 565-4274 for information.

Why do I need to take classes before foster parenting? 

The training and support helps make foster parenting a positive experience for you and your foster child. It is free of charge. Parenting a foster child is not the same as a birth child or stepchild. Most foster children and youth have been abandoned, abused or neglected and this trauma effects their emotions and behavior. Even infants are affected by their experiences, including those exposed to their mother’s substance abuse during pregnancy.

Foster parents help children manage their feelings about being separated from their families. You need to learn how to interact with the children’s birth families, and how to respond before and after children's visits with family. The pre-service training helps you prepare for these interactions.

It also helps you understand the child welfare court process and how to access helpful community resources. You'll meet some of the professionals you will work with, as well as experienced foster parents who can serve as mentors. 

Each year after being approved by the State, foster parents also participate in eight hours of continuing education.

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.
  • Secure lock up of firearms or weapons, with ammunition locked away separately.
  • Make 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. Balcony railings and most fences may not have uncovered spaces more than four inches across between the posts. 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 safely fenced, or have a locked cover, in homes for children under age 10, or if there is an older child with special needs.

If hazards or concerns are noted during a home visit, the social worker will discuss options  to ensure that your home meets safety standards. You are responsible for expenses to prepare your home. Discuss your plans with us before preparing your home for foster care.