Child care for foster kids: what are the rules?

Child care for foster kids: what are the rules?

Since many families need new child care setups during online school, here’s a clarifying document from the Licensing Division on who can babysit your foster child, for how long, and where.

To find Community child care, contact Child Care Aware of WA:
Family Center – 1-800-446-1114

The document covers respite care, substitute care and licensed child care.

Here’s an extract on the more informal types of care:

Substitute Care: friends and relatives

A licensed foster parent may use a friend or relative as a substitute care provider for foster children. A foster parent may use this form of care without arranging for a background check of the substitute caregiver. See WAC 110-148-1605(2). Substitute care can be used for child care purposes as long as the care is not provided as a means of business. Overall, there are two types of substitute care.

1.     Friend and Relative Substitute Care

This type of care is not regular, cannot exceed 72 hours, does not need social worker approval, includes no requirements for the substitute care provider other than reasonable assurances by the foster parent that the child will be safe and it is not paid for by the state. See WAC 110-148-1605(2).

This is not the same thing as “Family, Friends and Neighbors” (FFN) care, a state subsidy program through Working Connections Child Care

Covid flexibility

Family and Extended Family child care support: contact your licensor if some members of your family, including biological children may provide child care support for your foster children. Some flexibility can be considered due to the COVID-19 pandemic situation.

What can we do if we are stay-at-home parents and need to go somewhere, such as an appointment? Can we get someone else to watch the children without security clearance if it isn’t on a regular basis?

Yes, as long as the person you are asking to watch your child is not operating care for the purpose of business.

While I am on respite and my respite provider needs to work fulltime during the day, can I rely on a fellow mom (not a foster parent) to cover an hour each afternoon of child care? If so, do they need a full background check/BBP/TB since their care is “regular” during that one-week stint?

If your respite is not regular, then the child care isn’t either. This scenario would fall under “friend and relative” substitute care. If your respite is irregular and the social worker has approved, then this is acceptable as long as your friend is not providing this care as a means of operating a business.

2.     Regular Substitute Care

This type of care can be regular and ongoing as long as the child’s social worker has approved it and the substitute care provider has a cleared background check, is over 18 years old, passed a TB test and has first aid, CPR, HIV/AIDS and bloodborne pathogen training. See WAC 110-148-1320. Again, this care cannot be provided as a means of practicing business and is not paid for by the state. See WAC 110-148-1605(3).

I’ve always been told by my licensor that if it’s regular (every week), the caregiver has to be a licensed child care or a respite provider.

You are allowed to have regular and ongoing care as long as the individual is not operating as a business. In order to determine this, the department analyzes factors such as compensation, frequency, advertising or other relevant information when making this determination.

Prudent Parenting

Prudent parenting is not a type of child care. Rather, it is a standard of caregiving that means foster parents are best equipped to determine the type of activities that their foster child may participate in. The purpose of prudent parenting is to allow foster children to have typical childhood experiences (e.g., slumber parties, birthday parties, playdates with other children, sleepovers, etc.) to benefit the child.

I’m a foster parent with a school-age child who plays soccer every Tuesday afternoon. Can the parent of another child on the team pick up my child from school every Tuesday and take them to practice?

Absolutely! This is considered one of many typical childhood activities and is allowable under prudent parenting.

If a child does the same play date each week after school, is that prudent parenting or child care?

As long as the purpose of the playdate is for the child’s social interaction and not for child care, then it is prudent parenting. Prudent parenting is meant to meet the child’s needs and not a foster parent’s need for child care. Accordingly, children participating in the playdate should be of similar age and have common interests.

Is an occasional movie night or sleepover with a foster parent’s family member with children the same age prudent parenting or respite?

This is prudent parenting. The purpose is to allow the foster child to have typical, healthy experiences and relationships with friends and family. Prudent parenting is not intended to assist foster parents with child care.

Child Care (RCW 43.216.010)

A child care license is necessary when someone provides child care and early learning services outside of the child’s home and provides the care for the purpose of engaging in business. There are 13 types of child care that are exempt from needing a license. See RCW 43.216.010(2). License-exempt child care includes:

  1. Relatives
  2. Legal guardians
  3. Friends and neighbors
  4. Parents on cooperative basis (the “date night” exception)
  5. Programs under four hours (the “nursery school” exception)
  6. Schools (kindergarten and up)
  7. Seasonal camps
  8. Drop-in child care when a parent stays on-site
  9. Boys and girls clubs
  10. Government operated (local, state or federal care)
  11. Tribal care on tribal lands
  12. Military care on a military base
  13. Early learning and support services programs


A traditional babysitter does not need to be licensed as a foster care provider or a child care provider because babysitting is typically done in the child’s home.

  1. A babysitter who is 16 years of age or older who visits the home of a foster child(ren) to provide care for a short period of time may qualify as a substitute care provider under WAC 110-148-1605.
  2. A babysitter does not need a child care and early learning license because babysitters provide care in the child’s own home and are not paid for by the state. See RCW 43.216.010(1).
  3. Foster children may be allowed to babysit short-term for non-foster children. See WAC 110-148-1605(6).

Why can’t my 15-year-old foster child babysit their 8-year-old sibling, but they can babysit my three biological children?

At this time, foster care regulations clearly state this 15-year-old cannot babysit any other foster children including their siblings.

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