According to the U.S. Department of Human Services, there are roughly 429,00 children in the U.S. foster care system on any given day. Children enter the foster care system due to neglect, abuse, or abandonment by their parents or guardians. Each state’s foster care procedures vary, but in general, the process begins with a report to Child Protection Services at which time a social worker is engaged to work with the child’s case. The social worker will meet with the family and the child and devise a plan for the child to receive care either with a relative or through the foster care system. However, there are instances when sufficient time is not available to make a plan to place the child. That is when emergency foster care occurs.

Emergency foster care is a short-term care solution for infants and children in need. Due to drug or alcohol abuse, unexpected death, or a parent or caregiver becoming physically or mentally incapable of caring for a child, social services may immediately choose to remove the child from their current living situation. It may happen any time of day or night, at any point during the year.

Its purpose is to ensure the child is able to reside somewhere safe and nurturing while social services work to find a more long-term solution, either with a relative, foster care or through adoption. Once the child leaves from their current living situation, social services will call their list of emergency foster care providers. Often these calls occur late at night or over the weekend. As soon the emergency foster care provider confirms willingness and availability, social services will deliver the child to the temporary home. Placements in emergency foster care homes may last anywhere from a few hours to a few months. Each state has its own guidelines with varying definitions of emergency foster care, but typically a temporary placement lasts between 72 hours and 30 days. Once a permanent solution is found, with a relative or a foster family, the child is removed from the emergency foster care provider’s home and resettled into the new living arrangements.

It is important to realize that children placed in emergency foster care are often in a very fragile state. They have experienced loss, they will experience grief, and they will struggle to cope. A good emergency foster care provider is someone who can be patient, provide a stable living environment, be available 24 hours a day, and can help the child feel wanted and loved. It is possible to turn down a placement, but emergency foster care providers should be able and willing to say yes to a child at a moment’s notice.

Like traditional foster care, interested caregivers will need to attend an informational meeting, complete an application, undergo background checks and clearances, attend training and classes, then receive their foster care license. Each state varies in their requirements for emergency foster care providers.

Have you had experience with emergency foster care? What tips can you share with interested caregivers?

Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and “is this really us?!” whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at