Q What is foster care?

Foster care is the name of a system which places children into temporary or permanent care through foster homes, group homes, kinship care, or adoption.

Q What should foster care be like?

If you are placed outside of your home, (in a place like a residential treatment facility, foster home, group home, and placements with relatives or family friends) and you feel any of the following  statements is ‘FALSE’ or not true, talk with your social worker or lawyer.  

  • I have access to the same things as kids and youth who aren't involved with DCF, such as time with friends, sleepovers, a normal curfew, dates/romantic relationships, or even a chance to earn allowance.
  • I am consulted about mental health and medical decisions for me.
  • I am allowed to participate in community activities, even if after curfew (such as sports, volunteer work, employment, school events, mentorships, summer camp, class field trips, and other rites of passage with my peers)
  • I experience clear and fair consequences, and the rules and policies here are clear, fair, and can be flexible.
  • I can use technology and social networking sites (with age appropriate monitoring).
  • I am allowed to build relationships, make choices, and make mistakes in an informed, supportive, and judgment-free environment.
  • If I have spiritual and/or religious beliefs; I am able to participate in activities related to those beliefs.
  • I am able to listen to age appropriate music and watch age appropriate TV shows and movies at this placement.
  • I have privacy, love and safety.
  • I am learning money management skills through opening savings plans, bank accounts, and establishing monthly budgets.

Q What are my rights in foster care?

While you are in foster care (also called DCF custody) you have the right to be treated with respect by your social worker and lawyer, and by everyone in your foster home.  Everybody should be working to ensure that you are healthy, happy, and well taken care of.  You should never be discriminated against, treated badly, or physically harmed for any reason, including for your race, your religion, your sexual orientation, the language you speak, or your social or cultural background. Tell your lawyer immediately if you are being treated badly in any way by those you should be able to trust.

The Youth Advisory Board of the Department of Children and Families developed a Foster Child Bill of Rights which guides DCF in the delivery of care and services to foster youth. 

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) recognizes the importance and value of relationships between brothers and sisters (siblings). DCF has adopted the Sibling Bill of Rights which guides the Department in the delivery of care and services to foster youth with the commitment to permanency, safety and well being.  The Sibling Bills of Rights pdf format of Sibling Bill of Rights
was developed by the New England Youth Coalition with the support of the New England Association of Child Welfare Commissioners and Directors. 

Q What does my social worker do?

Your social worker makes sure that you are in a safe, comfortable environment in which you are happy, healthy, and well taken care of. You can talk to your social worker about visits with your parents, brothers and sisters or with grandparents or other relatives.  Your social worker should visit you at least once a month in the place where you live and stay in contact with you and your family through personal visits and telephone calls.

Your Service Plan should have more specific information about your social worker’s duties and responsibilities.  

If you do not hear from your social worker at least once a month, or if you need help with other matters, call the social worker and schedule a meeting or visit.

Q What is a service plan?

The Service Plan is a document which identifies specific services that may help to resolve some of the issues which led to your entering foster care. The service plan sets out all the services that should be in place. You, the other members of your family and the social worker will have tasks on the Service Plan. You should participate in the development and review of your Service Plan. If you don't know what is in your Service Plan or you want something changed or added to your Service Plan, talk to your social worker or lawyer. A Service Plan tasks and their effectiveness should be reviewed every six months. If you are 14 or older your social worker should ask you to review and sign the Service Plan.

Q Does my social worker have to keep everything I say a secret?

You have the right to have private conversations with your social worker. Social workers CANNOT and WILL NOT keep what you tell them a secret from everybody.  Their job is to speak to the judge, lawyers, and your service providers about what you say in order to make sure you are in the best possible environment.

If you are in a living situation where you feel unsafe or unhappy, do NOT be afraid to talk to your social worker about it.  Your social worker’s job is to work so that you can have the best environment possible and get the services you need.

Q What does my lawyer do?

If you are 21 years old or younger and are in DCF custody as a result of a court order, you MUST have a lawyer. If you do not know who your lawyer is, then call the Children and Family Law Division. They are in charge of finding lawyers for children. Their telephone number is (617) 482-6212. Contact them if you do not hear from your lawyer.

Your lawyer should meet with you when you want or need to, as well as return your calls, explain the court process to you, and check in on how you are doing. Your lawyer will talk to the Judge and advocate for what you want. Your lawyer can also help you to get the services you need in school, for your health, and for your legal case.

Tip: Massachusetts law says that your lawyer MUST represent you AND WHAT YOU WANT. Your lawyer CANNOT do what he or she thinks is best for you if you do not want it.

Q Does my lawyer have to keep everything I say private?

YES!  Your lawyer is not allowed to talk about anything you say during your conversations and time together without your permission.  The ONE exception to this rule is that your lawyer can tell someone if you plan to hurt yourself or somebody else or if you lie to the court.

Q  What additional services and activities does DCF have for youth in foster care?

The Youth Advisory Board is a group of kids in DCF custody ages 16-21 who meet four times a year to share ideas and make recommendations on issues you live with in foster care such as making visits with your relatives easier and more frequent, playing sports at school, getting a driver's license, and having sleepovers. Each DCF region has a Youth Advisory Board. Representatives from each region sit on the Central Office Advisory Board as statewide representatives. The Youth Advisory Board assists in planning for the annual Youth Leadership Institute. The annual Youth Summit is a conference for youth in care from across the state on topics you select and co-lead.

The Wave is the DCF youth newsletter written by and for youth in care. Published every three months, it includes articles, poems, artwork, and resource information. By reading The Wave you will also learn about many youth sponsored activities such as Peer Support Groups, Higher Education Fairs, and Employment and Mentoring Programs.

Adolescent Outreach Program provides intensive, individualized life skills help to youth age 16-21 to help you prepare for living on your own as a young adult. DCF Outreach Workers help you with planning for school, jobs, money management, and personal decision-making, etc. Outreach Workers can give you help applying to and finding money for college, a job training program, or a certificate program as well as help finding internships and jobs. Your Outreach Worker should be meeting with you EVERY WEEK while you are in care, and will provide services to you for 6 months after you leave DCF. Outreach can serve youth who left care at age 18 up to age 21.

PAYA (Preparing Adolescents for Young Adulthood) is a DCF program that helps you develop skills needed to transition to young adulthood. By completing each of the 5 Modules in the PAYA curriculum you may be eligible for a one time payment of up to $300 for driver’s education or $50.00 for independent living needs.

Foster Skills is an organization that provides helpful programs and resources to develop life skills and success in the workforce through peer-to-peer relationships and by collaborating with other non-profit organizations in the State. Foster Skills has partnered with DCF to bring life to its PAYA curriculum. You can find more information about it on the website: http://www.fosterskills.org/

Foster Kids of the Merrimack Valley is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving the needs of foster children in the Merrimack Valley (including Haverhill, Lawrence, Methuen, Andover, and North Andover). It offers a range of programs for local foster children of all ages. It works closely with DCF to make sure its programs are complementary and needed, and do not overlap with state and federally funded programs. One of the programs offered is a mentoring program for youth (ages 14 and up) who are aging out of foster care. Find more information on the website: http://www.fosterkidsmv.org/

Q Do I have the right to live with my family?

If you are in DCF custody through a Child Requiring Assistance (CRA) or Care and Protection case, you have the right to be placed with relatives if available. DCF will try to place you with your brothers and sisters.

Q Do I have the right to visit my family?

If it is safe for you to do so, you have the right to regular visitation with your brothers and sisters, your parents, and your grandparents.

Sibling visits: If you are not living with your brothers and sisters, ask your social worker to arrange for regular visits, phone calls and letters. Regular visitation should be part of the service plan that DCF prepares for your family (see the Sibling Bills of Rights pdf format of Sibling Bill of Rights
). DCF should try to help you participate in celebrations including birthdays, holidays, graduations and other special events. Talk to your social worker or lawyer as soon as you know about a family event.

Visits with your parents: Unless contact with your parents has been determined to be unsafe for you, you should be given the opportunity to have telephone contact with your parent (s) within 24-48 hours of coming into placement and a face-to-face visit as soon as possible but no later than 5 working days after placement. This is true whether you’re in a foster home or non-foster home setting.  In general, you should be able to visit with your parent once a week unless your circumstances require a different schedule.

Q Why am I in foster care?

You may be in foster care because your parents can't take care of you right now or because someone brought it to DCF's attention that you were not safe in your home. It is not your fault that you are in foster care.