Foster Care

How does the foster care system work?

In cases where children may not be safe with their family of origin, Child Protective Services (CPS) looks to foster and adoptive families to provide appropriate temporary and permanent homes for children who cannot live with their parents (the Division of Milwaukee Child Protective Services in Milwaukee County). In order for this to occur, the CPS worker must go to Children’s Court to get a court order called a CHIPS (Children in Need of Protection or Services) order for the child to be placed in a foster home. These cases are transferred to and monitored by ongoing case managers (OCM) as long as a court order is in place. The OCM ensures the family receives the services it needs to work toward reunification or some other form of permanence for the child. The OCM is responsible for family assessment and permanency planning, as well as for providing services identified by the court to assist the child and family. Foster and adoptive families must be complete training and licensing requirements.

For more information about foster care and licensing:

Wisconsin Department of Children and Families website

Talking to kids about foster care

How do you explain foster care to a child who has not experienced it and does not know other kids who are in foster care? How do you tell them about abuse, neglect, and being removed from their parents’ care without scaring them? Kids sure do “say the darndest things,” and they are not afraid to ask difficult questions. It is important to be honest and straightforward. Here is a sample of questions that kids often ask about foster care:

Is foster care a place, like a day care?

It may be hard for kids to understand what exactly foster care means. Foster care is not a place where all kids in foster care go, but a child in foster care lives with a family, in a home, just like other children. The only difference is that a child in foster care is not living with his or her parents because it is not safe.

What happens to parents when kids go into foster care? Do the kids get to see their parents?

If it is safe, and if a child’s parents are available, a child will get to visit his or her parents. Often the visits are supervised just to make sure that the kids are safe. As time goes on, a child may get to visit for longer periods of time with his or her parents, and may get to go back home for good.

If kids can be in foster care because their parents hit them, what if my parents hit me when I am in trouble?

If a child asks about spanking, be careful to make a clear distinction between spanking and abuse. Though many people feel that spanking is an inappropriate form of punishment, many parents do spank their children when other forms of punishment, like time-outs, are not working. Clearly explain to children that the kind of hitting and abuse that may send a child into foster care is very, very serious.

Who picks up a kid in foster care from school? What does a kid in foster care do on the weekends?

Kids in foster care are just like other kids, but they do not live with their parents. Their foster parents do just about everything that a parent would do, like picking up the child from school, taking the child to a sports practice or an extracurricular activity, and spending time with the child on the weekends. The foster family’s home is the child’s home, too, so the child sleeps there and spends the weekends there–just like other kids do at their homes.

What does a kid in foster care do for the holidays?

A kid in foster care may celebrate the holidays with family members if possible, but he or she may also celebrate the holidays with his or her foster family. Foster families, like other families, will include their foster children in their family activities. If a kid in foster care is used to celebrating the holidays differently, or even celebrating different holidays than his or her foster family, the foster family can work with the child to honor those traditions. A kid in foster care has a new foster family, but that does not mean that his or her past interests and traditions no longer matter.

Does a kid in foster care ever get to go back home to get his or her things?

This depends on the safety of the situation. If a child is very unsafe at home and must be removed, the move will probably happen very quickly, and the child will not be able to take much, if anything, from home. This is why children sometimes enter foster care with only the clothes on their backs. If the home is safe enough, it may be determined that a child can gather more of his or her things.  Maybe someone else can even bring some of the child’s personal belongings to him or her after the child has entered foster care. The most important thing is safety, and sometimes that means that a child’s things get left behind.

What if a kid in foster care has a disability?

If a child in foster care has a disability, it is important to remember three things:

  1. They are part of a very vulnerable population and it is important to protect them.
  2. The best way to protect them is to give them information, honesty, and openness. The more information young people have, the more informed and better choices they make.
  3. If your child has a disability, make your home, space, and communication as accessible to them as possible.

What happens when kids in foster care turn 18? What do they do?

If kids are in foster care until age 18, they “age out” of foster care. This means that they were not “reunified” with their parents, and they were not legally adopted. Maybe a foster family will still stay in contact with them and help them find a place to live, work, or go on to college. Maybe a mentor or friend will help them learn to live independently. Sometimes, kids who age out of foster care will find their parents, from whom they were separated, and live with them again. There are many, many options and paths that kids may take. Before kids turn 18 and age out of foster care, they have access to many resources and tools to help them prepare for living on their own.

What else can we do to help kids in foster care?

One of the most important things that kids can do is understand that some kids are not able to live with their parents, and that being in foster care is typically a result of something out of a kid’s control. There are so many different kinds of families, and it is important to not judge others because their family may seem different than yours. Whether grandparents raise their grandchildren, aunts or uncles raise their nieces and nephews, older siblings raise their younger siblings, adoptive parents raise their adopted children, or foster parents raise their foster children, these are all families. What is most important is that kids are safe and well taken care of. Just understanding that some kids may have experienced difficult things in their lives and choosing not to judge them by those situations can be so helpful to a child in foster care. They need friends to stick by them, just like any other child.

Books and Resources for Children

Happy Adoption Day! by John McCutcheon

Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale by Karen Katz

The Red Blanket by Eliza Thomas

Little Miss Spider by David Kirk

The Star: A Story to Help Young  Children Understand Foster Care by Cynthia Miller Lovell

Maybe Days- A Book for Children in Foster Care by Jennifer Wilgocki and Marcia Kahn

Kids Need to be Safe: A Book for Children in Foster Care by Julie NelsonTell Me Again

About the Night I Was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis

Is There Really a Human Race by Jamie Lee Curtis

Where Do Balloons Go? by Jamie Lee Curtis

I’m Gonna Like Me by Jamie Lee Curtis

I Wished for You: an Adoption Story by Marianne Richmond

God Found Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren and Laura J. Bryant

A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza

A Blessing from Above by Patti Henderson

My Family, My Journey:  A Baby Book for Adoptive Families by Zoe Francesca and Susie Ghahremani

Hopper the Loney Frog: An Adoption Story for Children by Kimberly Lee

The Day We Met You by Phoebe Koehler

Murphy’s Three Homes:  A Story for Children in Foster Care by Jan Levinson GilmanAll Kinds of Families by Norma Simon

An Elephant in the Living Room: A Children’s Book by Jill M. Hastings

Families Change: A Book for Children Experiencing Termination of Parental Rights by Julie Nelson and Mary Gallagher

Finding the Right Spot: When Kids Can’t Live with Their Parents by Janice Levy

Let’s Talk About Living with a Grandparent by Susan Kent

Mama Bear Baby Bear by Linda Silvas

Robert Lives with his Grandparents by Martha Whitmore Hickman

The Family Book by Todd Parr

We Belong Together: A Book about Adoption and Families by Todd Parr

Who’s in a Family? by Robert Skutch

Did My First Mother Love Me?: A Story for an Adopted Child by Kathryn Ann Miller

Anna Casey’s Place in the World by Adrian Fogelin

Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt

Double Dip Feelings: Stories to help children understand emotions by Barbara S.

FYI Binder: The Tool for Youth Involvement by compiled by and available from

Holding Up the Earth by Dianne E.

I Miss My Foster Parents by Stefon Herbert

Lost in the System by Charlotte Lopez with Susan Dworkin.

My Foster Family: A Story for Children Entering Foster Care by Jennifer Levine

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson.

Zachary’s New Home: A Story for Foster and Adopted Children by Geraldine Molettiere Blomquist, Paul B. Blomquist, Margo Lemieux

Over the Moon:  An Adoption Tale by Patrice Barton and Karen Henry Clark

Rosie’s Family:  An Adoption Story by Lori Rosove

Happy Adoption Day! by Trevory Royle, Julie Paschkis and John McCutcheon

Sweet Moon Baby:  An Adoption Tale by Patrice Barton and Karen Henry Clark

Star of the Week:  A Story of Love, Adoption and Brownies with Sprinkles by Darlene Friedman

My New Family:  A First Look at Adoption by Pat Thomas

My Adopted Child, There’s No One Like You by Kevin Leman

I Don’t Have Your Eyes by Carrie A. Kitze

Maybe Days:  A Book for Children in Foster Care by Jennifer Wilgocki

All About Adoption: How to Deal With Questions From Your Past by Anne Lanchon

Lucy’s Family Tree by Karen Halvorsen Schreck

Three Names of Me by Mary Cummings

How it Feels to be Adopted by Jill Krementz

Forever Fingerprints: An Amazing Discovery for Adopted Children by Sherrie Eldgridge

Families Change:  A Book for Children Experiencing Termination of Parental Rights by Julie Nelson

Kinship With All Life by J. Allen Boone

All About Adoption: How to Deal With Questions From Your Past  by Anne Lanchon

How it Feels to be Adopted by Jill Krementz

Returnable Girl by Pamela Lowell

Adopted: The Ultimate Teen Guide by Suzanne Slade

Face in the Mirror: Teenagers and Adoption by Marion Crook

Adopted Teens Only: A Survival Guide to Adolescence by Danea Gorbett

The Heart Knows Something Different: Teenage Voices from the Foster Care System by Al Desetta

Heaven by Angela Johnson

A Brief Chapter in my Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt

Picture This by Norma McClintock

Returnable Girl by Pamela Lowell

The Decoding of Lana Morris by Laura McNeal

The Yellow Sock: An Adoption Story by Angela Elwell Hunt

Born in Our Hearts: Stories of Adoption by Filis Casey

Kinship and Family: An Anthropological Reader by David Parkin and Linda Stone