Foster Care Explained

Foster Care Explained

by Katheryn M. Ogle, Attorney

Many believe that the term “foster care” extends to anyone who is caring for a child, or may have custody of a child who is not their own; however, the definition of foster care in a legal sense requires that individuals and families are approved by the State of Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) through a significant background check and several home study inspections and visits. 

In a true foster care situation, individual families complete classes related to child development and safety in order for their homes to be approved by DCS or a third-party contract agency for DCS as open foster homes.  Foster families may be relatives or non-relatives to the children placed in their homes.  Each child or sibling group that is placed in foster care has an attorney representing their best interests called a “Guardian ad litem,” in addition to an employee of DCS or the agency that coordinates all aspects of the placement called a “family services worker.” 

Each home is identified by the level of care they provide for children based upon their specific training and ranges from levels 1 through 4.  The placement of a child or children in each home depends on a number of factors, and every attempt is made to maximize each child’s integration into a safe, stable environment.  If a child has extraordinary needs, or requires special attention, DCS will seek families who have training and experience in the identified areas.

Foster care is designed to be a temporary placement for children, with the goal of exiting custody of the State of Tennessee either by returning to parents who successfully complete a permanency plan developed by the Child and Family Team, exiting custody with a relative or a subsidized permanent guardianship, adoption following the surrender or termination of parental rights, or independent living arrangements, including transitional services for older youth.

If you are interested in learning more about foster care, please visit the State of Tennessee website at

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