What is foster care?

Foster care is the temporary placement of children, often due to child abuse or neglect, with families or individuals outside of their own homes into approved relative care or licensed homes. The goal of foster care is to provide for the physical, emotional, and social needs of children in a “substitute” family setting until the child can be reunited with their own family. In cases where a reunion is not possible, those children may be placed with relatives, an adoptive family or with a legal guardian.  

Who Can Foster?

All potential foster parents must meet the licensing requirements set by the State of Washington. Reviewing this list can help you decide if foster care is right for you. Please note that private agencies must follow the same minimum licensing requirements as the State and may also add additional requirements. For a list of agency specific licensing requirements, please contact the individual agency.
English Recruitment Fact Sheet
Spanish Recruitment Fact Sheet
Russian Recruitment Fact Sheet

Licensing Resources

Licensing Checklist
Use this checklist to keep track of the licensing requirements. Please note that some private agencies may have additional requirements.
Basic Licensing Requirements
Disqualifying Crimes
Licensing Timeframe

WACs (Licensing Requirements for Foster Homes)

Types of Foster Care

From short-term respite care to a forever home through adoption, there are many ways to foster a child.  Click the link below to review the types of homes and decide which is right for you, based on your family’s comfort level and availability.
Types of Foster Care Homes

Click Here to Listen to a Radio Interview with Shannon VanderArk

Journey of a Foster Child

Select step of journey:

Placed into Protective Custody

In an emergency situation where it appears that a child is at risk of imminent harm or has already been seriously abused or neglected, a police officer can place the child in “protective custody” for no more than 72 hours (not counting Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays). Custody of the child is then transferred to Child Protective Services (CPS), which places the child with a relative if possible. If an appropriate relative is not available, the child is placed into a licensed foster home. A court hearing is held within 72 hours (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays) of the time the child was placed in custody.

Shelter Care Hearing

During the Shelter Care hearing, the court reviews the Dependency Petition* and addresses issues, including:

  • Parental visitation
  • Legal representation
  • Placement and supervision of child until next hearing.
  • Dependency Status

The court can decide to dismiss the case and return the children home.

Continued Shelter Care (Review) Hearing

A Continued Shelter Care or review hearing will be held every 30 days until the case is dismissed or dependency is established, either through a Dependency Fact Finding hearing or an agreement between the parties.

During the Continued Shelter Care hearings, the court reviews progress made by the parent(s) and continues to address issues, including:

  • Placement
  • Level of Supervision
  • Parent Visitation
  • What services have been offered
  • What additional services are needed
  • When the child could be returned home
  • If a petition for the termination of parental rights should be filed
  • Possible dismissal of the dependency case.

A Review Hearing will be held every 30 days, until either the case is dismissed or dependency is established, either through a Dependency Fact Finding Hearing, or an agreement between the parties.

Dependency Fact Finding Hearing

If the parties cannot agree, a Dependency Fact Finding hearing is held. If the court finds that the child is to be made a dependent of the State, another hearing is held to address:

  • Placement of child
  • Parental visitation
  • Services that will be provided to the child and parent(s) to correct the problems and help make reunification possible

Review Hearing

The Court reviews the progress made and determines:

  • What services have been offered
  • What additional services are needed
  • When the child could be expected to return home.
  • If a petition for the termination of parental rights should be filed if the parent(s) are not making progress.

Permanency Planning Hearing

During the Permanency Planning hearing, the court determines what the permanent plan for the child should be. The court also decides on a concurrent secondary plan, including:

  • Return home
  • Termination of parental rights and Adoption.
  • Guardianship
  • Third-Party Custody

Termination Trial

If the child’s social worker decides that reunification is not in the child’s best interest, he or she will file a request for parental termination. If the court agrees, it will issue an order terminating the parent-child relationship making the child “legally free” and available for adoption. The birth parents can also choose to voluntarily relinquish their parental rights with or without an Open Adoption Agreement.


Adoptive parents permanently assume all parental rights and responsibilities for the child.

Additional information on this process can be found in: