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While paid or unpaid parental leave isn’t guaranteed in America, many employers have this included in their benefits. In fact, the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act was passed in 2020 providing US federal employees access to 12 weeks of paid time off for births, adoption, and the placement of a foster child! This can be a huge help for foster families as the adjustment can be sudden and requires lots of time and energy from the parents. 

Before you make any decisions, make sure you understand your employers rules and limits and have a conversation with your HR or manager so they are aware and can work with you on leave plans. Understanding your leave options is important to understand before you start your first placement so take some time to think through this between the books you are reading to get ready.

Important Factors to Know

HR is going to be your best resource to really understand how foster care parental leave works at your employer and you should investigate all the requirements and caveats as best you can so you don’t wind up with a surprise down the line… I might have overlooked my company’s “leave must be taken in two week or more increments” policy and ended up losing out on my final week of leave because I didn’t have another week to pair with it… Learn from my mistakes!

  • Do I qualify: Obviously things like respite placements won’t qualify but if foster cases are included in your policy, most placements should fit the requirements. You will likely need to have official proof of placement, which should be a basic form that your caseworker will provide early on. Make sure you are clear on any policies regarding the minimum length of time the child is placed with you before qualifying for leave.
  • How much notice is needed: Generally one month’s notice is the minimum requirement but speak with your direct manager if there is wiggle room. Some occupations are flexible and if you plan ahead you might be able to get approved for shorter notice. Placements can happen with very little notice so having an option to take at least part of your leave in the near term can help with settling in. Note: you might be able to take a portion of your leave before a placement so if you need time to prep your house take advantage of this as you will have much less free time once kiddos arrive.
  • How much time is required between new placements: This policy can be pretty vague because parental leave for fostering is much less common than births or adoption so employers might not have a policy for all of the one-off foster scenarios. There might not be a firm rule in place but make sure to get guidance or approvals from HR in writing if you are expecting to have more than 1 placement overlap in a calendar or 12 month period.
  • Do I get leave for each child in the sibling group that moved in: Almost certainly no. Generally, each placement (regardless of the number of children) is grouped together under one leave period the same as giving birth to twins is treated as one placement.
  • Will I get additional leave if I adopt my foster child: You probably will not qualify for a second parental leave for the same child. Even if the child returns to your house after being placed somewhere else or if you adopt them it will likely not be eligible for another leave request. However, if you move employers between these events it is possible it would qualify so consult HR if you’ve started a new job.
  • How long do I have to use my leave: 12-18 months is the most likely range and spreading out your leave for major milestones that occur later on can be good so don’t take it all at once if you don’t need to and the kids are spending most of their day in school.

Hopefully the advice above helps you are think about what parental leave options you have you can also find helpful advice here about what times are best to take your leave. Make sure to consult your HR department or manager once you’ve thought through these considerations. Let us know if there are any tips we overlooked!