What is foster care?
Foster care places children into temporary or permanent care through foster homes, group homes or kinship care until you can be reunited safely with your parents, or be adopted or placed in a guardianship. 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 or the judge wants you placed outside the home for other reasons.
What are my rights in foster care?
If you are in DCF custody through a Care and Protection case, Voluntary Placement Agreement or Child Requiring Assistance case (CRA), you have the right to be placed with safe and available relatives after a home study is completed and approved by DCF. Your social worker will also try to place your brothers and sisters in the same home. 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, gender identity, 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.
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. 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, 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.
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. You can find it at: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dcf/foster-care/our-children-and-youth/foster-child-bill-of-rights.html.
DCF values 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 was developed by the New England Youth Coalition with the support of the New England Association of Child Welfare Commissioners and Directors. You can find it at: https://www.mass.gov/media/985796/download.
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 and getting the education and any medical care or mental health services you need. 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. If you do not hear from your social worker at least once a month, or if you need help with other matters, call your social worker and schedule a meeting or visit. Your Action Plan should have more specific information about your social worker’s duties and responsibilities.
A social worker’s job is to speak to the judge, lawyers, and your service providers to make sure you are living in a safe, nurturing place and you are getting the services you need. This means that social workers cannot and will not always keep what you tell them a secret, even if you ask them to. Your social worker’s job is to work so that you can have the best environment possible and get the services you need
What is an action plan?
The action plan is a document written by your social worker which identifies specific services that may help to resolve some of the issues which led to your entering foster care. The action 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 action plan. You should participate in the development and review of your action plan. If you don't know what is in your action plan or you want something changed or added that will help you or your family, talk to your social worker or lawyer. The tasks in an action plan 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 action plan. Your lawyer should help you work with DCF or talk with DCF about what is in your action plan.
What does my lawyer do?
If you are 17 years old or younger and living in DCF custody because of a court order or as a young adult (aged 18 to 22) who has signed a Voluntary Placement Agreement, the court will appoint a lawyer to represent you. 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.
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.
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, 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 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 and safety and I feel cared for.
- I am learning money management skills through opening savings plans, bank accounts, and using monthly budgets.
What additional services does DCF have for me?
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. You can get a copy at your DCF office.
Adolescent Outreach Program provides intensive, individualized life skills help to youth age 16-21 that will help you prepare for living on your own as a young adult. DCF Outreach Workers help you plan 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 five 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. 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/