Foster Care

Children can enter DSS custody from birth until 18. Nationwide, over half of the children in foster care are over the age of 10 years. Children in foster care are from all racial and socio-economic backgrounds. They have been abused, neglected or are without an appropriate adult to care for them. These children need families in our community to open their hearts and homes to them. Foster and adoptive parents are needed, and we invite you to learn more below.

Children enter foster care due to a number of issues related to abuse, neglect or dependency. Dependent children are those children without an appropriate adult caretaker. Many children in foster care have special needs, including health issues, behavioral issues, special educational needs, and mental health diagnosis.

DSS has the responsibility to work with birth parents and other extended relatives to address safety issues so that children can return home. Although each family’s situation is different and a Judge makes the final ruling, the Department of Social Services is required to make a recommendation about a child’s long term plan within one year of the child entering foster care. The Department also makes diligent efforts to identify extended relatives who could care for the child. When that cannot be done, the agency pursues other long term plans for the child, including adoption.

New Hanover County foster and adoptive parents are your friends, neighbors, and fellow community citizens.  Most families who adopt through DSS provide foster care first.  We find that by the time a child goes through the process of becoming available for adoption, he/she has bonded with the foster parents and many times it is this foster family who adopts the child.  There are times when it isn’t the right match for the current foster parent to adopt the child and in those cases we look to our other families interested in adoption to make a connection.  Our families come from all different backgrounds and live in all communities across the county.

foster-care2We have many single parents as well as couples who adopt.  Many children who are adopted from foster care qualify for ongoing adoption assistance benefits.  For children who are adopted in their teens there is even help for college available.  Probably the greatest challenge of adoption from foster care is that it is unknown at the time a child is placed in a home whether the child will later need an adoptive family.  The Department’s first responsibility is to work with the birth family to alleviate the need for continued foster care and recommend reunification.  We don’t know what the outcome will be at the time of placement, so our foster families have to be prepared to let go of a child they’ve grown to love.  If a foster parent does adopt a child from foster care, the Department helps the foster parent navigate the adoption process.  The Department also provides fee services including: preplacement assessments for independent adoptions, and stepparent and relative adoption services for children who are not in the Department’s custody.

Teens in foster care are a special group of young people who face unique challenges in gaining the life skills needed to become self-sufficient, successful adults.  Some foster families are hesitant to parent a teen because of some of the challenges they may encounter.

Unfortunately, this leaves many teens with few safe living options, often resulting in their placement in a group homes and, often, this means they must relocate out of their home community.  Sadly, a change in schools and friends for a teenager can have significant negative educational and emotional impacts.  For teens, leaving their team sports, extra- curricular activities, friends and school it can be devastating.  We need your help and commitment to keeping teens involved in healthy activities in their home community. Along with the challenges of fostering or adopting a teen come some of the greatest rewards!  Knowing you can make a positive difference in young person’s life by offering your guidance, love and support can be one of the most special things anyone can do.

Foster Care 18-21 Program

Youth who were in the legal custody of NC Department of Social Services upon their 18th birthday may be eligible to voluntarily participate in this program. Youth do not have to reside in a licensed foster home to receive services, such as assistance with room and board, case management services, and referrals to support and increase independent living skills as they transition to adulthood. Participants must be age 18-21 and meet other eligibility requirements. Call (910) 945-8137 for more information.

Youth in the Foster Care 18-21 program also need supports and placement options. You do not have to be a licensed foster parent to be a resource for these young adults. Support could include mentoring, providing employment opportunities, independent living skill training, as well as potential rental opportunities.

Will you foster a teen?

If you are interested or for more information, contact DSS’ foster home licensing unit at (910) 798-3566 at

NC LINKS: A program that helps prepare youth in foster care (or having been in foster care) for successful adulthood by providing support, resources and guidance both before and after they turn 18. The name LINKS is not an acronym, and therefore does not “stand” for anything. Instead, it is a word that captures the need to build a network of relevant services (links) with youth so that they will have ongoing connections with family, friends, mentors, the community, employment, education, financial assistance, skills training, and other resources to facilitate the transition to adulthood.

NHCDSS LINKS provides a variety of supports to youth in and out of foster care.

Transitional Funds: Funding for youth, eligible to be used in achieving positive outcomes. Examples include: tutoring, work uniforms, furnishing apartments, bicycles for transportation to/from work, etc.

SAYSO (Strong Able Youth Speaking Out): A statewide association of youth ages 14 to 24, who have been or currently in the foster care system. Their mission is to improve the foster care system by educating the community, speaking out about needed changes, and providing support to these youth. More information is available at:

Housing Funds: Available for rent deposits, rent or down payments. Youth must currently be between 18 and their 21st birthday and have turned 18 while in custody of the Department of Social Services.

Education and Training Vouchers (ETV): The NC ETV Program offers funds to foster youth and former foster youth (must have been in custody after age 17) to enable them to attend secondary education institutions. Students may receive up to $5000 a year between their 17th and 23rd birthday as they pursue higher education. The funds may be used for tuition, books or qualified living expenses.

NC REACH: Financial assistance for youth who aged out of foster care (at age 18) or who were adopted after age 12 (if they are attending one of the NC state colleges or universities including community colleges). Funding for tuition, books, fees, housing, etc.

Medicaid: Any youth who aged out of foster care at age 18 is eligible until their 21st birthday (must apply to all programs). Apply at your local DSS or contact your LINKS Coordinator at DSS.

Resources and Referrals: Your LINKS coordinator and/or your social worker are available to assist with referrals for counseling, job applications, resume building, educational services, etc.


You can reach our LINKS Coordinators at:

Talishia Bryant

(910) 945-8160


Janal Early


Foster parents provide a temporary home for children who are placed in custody of Department of Social Services. Children enter DSS custody for a variety of reasons, including abuse, neglect or the lack of an appropriate adult to provide care. During the child’s placement in foster care, the Department will actively work with parents in an effort to reunify children with the parents or extended family members.

Adoptive parents provide a permanent, loving home to children who are unable to return to their biological parents or other family members. Often, foster parents who have cared for a child during the “reunification period” commit to adopting the child if those reunification efforts are not successful.

Hours: Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. This is a full time commitment! We do offer “respite” services for families who need a few days break along the way.

Financial Compensation: This is a volunteer position, however, New Hanover County DSS does provide a monthly board payment to foster families which helps off set the cost of caring for a child in foster care, including expenses associated with transportation, food, clothing, school supplies and other incidental items.

Basic requirements: Candidates for foster and adoptive parenting must complete a 30 hour pre-service training course, obtain multiple background clearances (including sex offender registry, criminal history and finger print checks), pass a fire inspection of the home, pass an environmental inspection of the home, obtain medical clearance from their doctor, be able to meet their own financial obligations without dependency on the board payment, participate in an in-depth home study process, and complete the formal application for licensure of a foster home.

Special Skills and Characteristics: Candidates for foster and adoptive parenting must be able to provide a safe environment for a child and provide for his or her basic physical and emotional needs, treating the child as a member of the family. Foster and adoptive parents must commit to the following responsibilities as they relate to a child in foster care:

  • ensure the child regularly attends school while monitoring the child’s progress, special needs and accomplishments
  • provide appropriate and adequate clothing
  • attend to the child’s medical and dental needs
  • provide transportation to appointments
  • encourage recreational and enrichment activities which promote healthy development
  • provide consistent and realistic discipline in compliance with agency established policy
  • be capable of supporting a child through the grieving and adjustment process that accompanies removal from their own home and placement in foster care – including helping the child maintain a realistic relationship with their family and the maintenance of a record of the time a child spends in the home including photographs, report cards, awards, etc.

Fringe Benefits: Licensed foster and adoptive parents are invited to participate in a monthly support group meeting. The Department provides in-service training opportunities each year on topics of interest identified by foster and adoptive parents. The Department hosts three events throughout the year in an effort to show appreciation for our families. Families receive a monthly newsletter with useful information regarding changes in policy, upcoming events and informational tips.

For more information, contact the foster home licensing unit of New Hanover County Department of Social Services at (910) 798-3566 at

New Hanover County residents who are interested in learning more about becoming a foster or adoptive family should contact the foster home licensing unit of New Hanover County Department of Social Services at (910) 798-3566 at

If you live outside of New Hanover County, please contact your local Department of Social Services.

Social Services: 1650 Greenfield Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-3500 • Fax 910-798-7824
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