Foster Care for Military Families

Marcelina Hardy, MSEd, BCC
Casi Preheim
Casi Preheim, MSW

Even though many military families have to move every few years, they can still open their hearts and homes to a foster child. To help you understand the process of foster care, LoveToKnow interviewed social worker Casi Preheim, MSW. She is a Colorado, Military and Global Families Service Specialist for The Adoption Exchange.

About Casi Preheim, MSW

I have worked at The Adoption Exchange as the Military and Global Families Service Specialist since December of 2009. In this role, I have provided recruitment and retention services for potential foster and adoptive families living overseas, including military families, who are interested in adopting waiting children from the U.S. foster care system. My position is designed to provide excellent customer service, useful information and referrals, and ongoing support to these families throughout the process.

AdoptUSKids is a federally funded project that is operated through a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Children's Bureau and the Adoption Exchange Association. AdoptUSKids contracts with The Adoption Exchange to provide services that support the building of capacity by U.S. States, Territories, Tribes and courts to include consideration of qualified military and global families as potential foster and adoptive families for children in foster care. These services include collaboration with expert partners (via monthly teleconferences), participation in revisions to the AdoptUSKids publication titled Wherever My Family Is: That's Home!: Adoption Services for Military Families, the creation of tip sheets for caseworkers about military families, and education of public and private agency adoption professionals through conference presentations and articles.

How Military Families Provide Foster Care

LoveToKnow (LTK): Why do people decide to foster a child?

Casi Preheim (CP): People decide to be foster parents for a variety of reasons. Some families decide to foster because they have a personal relationship with a child who enters the child welfare system. Other families are introduced to the idea of foster care through their church, community events, or the media, and recognize that they would be able to provide a stable and loving home for these children. In some cases, individuals who make the decision to foster or adopt were once foster children themselves.

LTK: What does a potential foster family need to consider when deciding to take in a child?

CP: Potential foster families must first determine if fostering is appropriate for their entire family. Families should talk with their support systems, including extended family and their personal communities, to make sure they will be emotionally supported. Potential parents should also consider the needs of their current children and how they may be affected by the introduction of a new family member. Because most foster placements are temporary unless it is explicitly a pre-adoptive placement, a family should be prepared for the emotional impact of becoming attached to a child who is then reunified with the birth family.

Once a family determines they are able to complete the certification process and are ready to become a foster family, they need to consider what types of special needs they are equipped to support. Because of the situations that brought them to the attention of the child welfare system, most children in foster care have one or more physical, emotional, medical, educational, behavioral or mental conditions that can range from mild to severe and often require ongoing treatment. Potential parents should identify the conditions and levels of involvement they can effectively respond to within their family and community.

LTK: What if a family wants a foster child of a specific age, gender, or ethnicity?

CP: Families can always discuss their preferences with the caseworker who is conducting their home study/certification and can also refuse any placement. While certain parameters might be necessary for a successful placement, families should also know that these specifications might limit their potential for a placement.

LTK: How long does it usually take from initial processing to having a child to foster?

CP: This timeframe can vary greatly by state and agency. The certification process might take longer based on the availability of training classes or the number of families interested in fostering or adopting. After certification, the placement process might be determined by the number of children in the state needing a foster home. In general, however, the process can be expedited if the potential foster family has a pre-existing relationship with the child needing placement.

LTK: Are there any restrictions for military families?

CP: There should be no restrictions on a military family's ability to provide foster care or to adopt based solely on the fact that the family is in the military. However, there might be restrictions for these families based on factors that result from being a military family. For example, military families living overseas would not be able to foster children who are not legally free for adoption because those children would still be in the legal custody of the state.

Foster Family Support

LTK: What type of support is provided for the family and foster child in her new home?

CP: Although foster children are physically placed in a family's home, the state still has legal custody of the child. For this reason, families receive regular supervision, and financial, medical and social work support from the state, and services the family or child needs such as therapy, respite, or medical care is provided by the state.

The AdoptUSKids publication Wherever My Family Is: That's Home! explains that military families may also utilize their Family Service Centers. These Centers are located on every major military installation to provide family support and advocacy services. Social workers at these centers are available for family and/or child counseling and treatment, as needed to strengthen family functioning, promote the prevention of child abuse, preserve and support families where abuse and neglect have occurred, and collaborate with state and local civilian social service agencies.

Different designations for Family Service Centers are:

  • Army - Army Community Service
  • Air Force - Family Support Center
  • Navy - Fleet and Family Support Center
  • Marine Corp - Marine Corp Community Services
  • Coast Guard - Work/Life Office

Working Out Details

LTK: How does a military family foster when they typically move frequently?

CP: Because of the time it takes to become certified and have children placed in the home, fostering works best with military families who will be stationed in one place for more than a year. Although families may become certified in one state, they must also become certified when they are transferred to a different state. However, many states are starting to recognize the unique circumstances of military families and will accept specific elements of the certification process, such as the training classes, to be transferred with the family when relocating.

LTK: How does insurance work with foster children?

CP: Children in the foster care system receive medical insurance coverage through the state or federal government. Children are covered by Medicaid and Title IV-E of the Social Security Act.

If the child becomes eligible for adoption, and the military family wishes to legally adopt, the child may still receive these benefits. In fact, 80% of foster children who are adopted are eligible for ongoing funding (adoption assistance) though Title IV-E and/or the child's state of origin. Additionally, a child who is legally adopted by a military family would then be eligible for TRICARE benefits.

LTK: Are the families of the foster children involved? What happens when the military family must move away from the initial location where the fostering began?

CP: Today, most children who are in foster care have what are commonly referred to as "concurrent plans," that is, a primary plan to return the child home, side by side with an alternate plan of adoption should the returning home plan not be successful, for whatever reason. Even if a child returns home, it is common for their foster family to remain involved in the child's life through such means as email, video- or tele-conferencing, letters, pictures, and even visits.

If a military family has a foster child placed in their home who is not legally free for adoption when the military family is relocated, the child will typically be transferred to another foster family within the state. In some cases, the family member in the military might be able to request from their Unit Commander an extended stay at the current location, especially in situations when the process to terminate the rights of biological parents to the child have commenced and the foster family has been identified as the prospective adoptive family.

If the family is in the process of adopting the child when they are transferred, the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) in both the child's home state and the receiving state would work together to facilitate that placement. Contact information for each state's ICPC office can be found on the ICPC website.

Becoming a Foster Family

LTK: How does a family start with the process of fostering a child?

CP: AdoptUSKids provides a cost-free national gateway to the process to foster or adopt a child. AdoptUSKids provides general and state-specific information about fostering and adoption. Staff refer active-duty military families that live within the U.S. first to a military-global specialist who will provide additional information and then refer the family to the state where their permanent duty station is, since that is typically where they will be located. The process is similar for military families living overseas, although they would not be able to foster children who are not legally free for adoption because those children would still be in the legal custody of the state.

If adoption training is not readily accessible where a family is currently living, they can find out from their agency or home state child welfare agency what equivalent training is necessary. Once the family knows the requirements, they might be able to access similar training near their installation.

LTK: How does a family move from foster caring to adoption?

CP: When a family has the opportunity to legally adopt a foster child, they would follow a process similar to that of becoming a foster parent. The family's caseworker should be able to provide relevant information about the state's process for adoption. In some cases, the certification process for fostering is the same as that for adoption, and the majority of paperwork will be transferred by the caseworker from the fostering record to the adoption record.

Some states require an attorney to oversee the adoption legal proceedings. Families should find out as soon as possible if they need to make arrangements to involve an attorney. Although military families often have access to a Legal Assistance Office and the Judge Advocate General (JAG), the family cannot use these services as a legal representative. Families who must secure an attorney might be able to offset some of the legal fees with the adoption reimbursement program offered by the Department of Defense or with the child's state-administered adoption assistance program. Additionally, families are eligible for a federal adoption tax credit, and, in some states, with an income tax credit, which is a state tax credit for qualifying adoption expenses at any stage in the adoption process.

For More Information

Contact AdoptUSKids by visiting their website, emailing them at info@adoptuskids.org, or calling 1-888-200-4005.

Foster Care for Military Families