Becoming a foster parent can be a challenging, but ultimately extremely rewarding. To qualify to receive placement, individuals must become certified or approved. This involves a series of actions and assessments that ensure a potential foster parent is completely prepared for his or her new role.
10 Steps to Becoming a Foster Parent
Although the process can differ by state, the major steps involved are the same. It's important for families considering fostering to be familiar with what their decision will involve. Individuals do not have to be married to foster, but they do need to be 21 years of age or older, be able to show they can care for themselves and a child, have adequate financial stability, and complete the approval process.
According to Adopt US Kids, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising public awareness and supporting foster programs and adoption, it typically takes about a year from the time an individual first contacts a state agency to when a child is placed in the home.
1. Learn What Foster Care Involves
The first step for any candidate is to ensure he or she fully realizes what foster care involves and how it will impact his or her life. Parents should be compassionate, patient, and able to provide nurturing care for the child. Candidates should also be realistic about the fact that fostering isn't permanent and at some point the child may be removed from their care. Many state agencies have self-assessment questionnaires or resource pages for people to utilize to ensure they understand what it entails and they are ready to foster.
2. Find an Approved Agency for Your State
Both private and public agencies in each state are approved to oversee the foster care process. The government offers a national directory to find approved agencies, or you can contact local family or child service organizations that can provide this information.
- National Adoption and Foster Care Directory: This searchable directory, part of the Child Welfare Information Gateway (CWIG) and maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides information and contact numbers for various foster care organizations by state.
- Contact Information for Local and County Child Welfare Organizations: This page, also maintained by the CWIG, provides a comprehensive list of links with information on each state's local and county child welfare organizations. These offices will be able to give information on licensed agencies for specific cities or counties.
3. Contact the Agency
Once candidates find approved agencies, they should begin making phone calls to start the certification process. Since both public and private organizations oversee foster care, the National Foster Parent Association suggests individuals contact several organizations to make sure they are comfortable with the specific agency.
During the phone call, the agency will ask questions regarding basic contact information. The agency may also ask about the reason for the interest in fostering or discuss what their needs are.
4. Meet With the Agency
Most agencies will schedule a meeting, either in your home or at their office, for further discussion. At this point candidates will typically be given an application as well as any required forms to complete. State foster care guidelines will also usually be provided at this time. Some organizations hold group orientations at pre-specified times rather than individual meetings.
This introductory meeting is a great time for potential foster parents to discuss any questions or concerns they may have.
5. Attend Training
The next step is typically for parents to attend a training program that prepares them for their role as foster parents, however, some states may do the home study before the training. All state agencies have mandatory training. The type of program and the number of training hours varies among states and can be as little as 10 or over thirty. Information that might be discussed during training includes agency policies, understanding children's needs, managing behavior, cultural issues, attachment and separation issues, abuse, and resources and support for parents.
6. Complete a Home Study
A home study is when the agency assesses the residence to make sure it adheres to all state and local zoning laws and can provide a safe environment for the child. The agency official will check to make sure any guns are safely stored in locked cabinets, any hazardous materials are inaccessible to children, and that the home is clean and well-maintained.
Additionally, there must be adequate space for all occupants for daily activities including playing, eating and studying. Other items such as proper lighting and heating will be assessed. Safety precautions for things such as well, pools or jacuzzis will be evaluated. If pets are in the home, they must be well-cared for and up to date on vaccinations. The agency will typically make several home visits to complete the evaluation.
Usually during the study, the agent will also interview and assess all family members, however, some states or agencies may interview the family as a separate part of the process. When this occurs, the home study may be referred to as a safety inspection.
7. Provide References
Sometimes this step is done during the initial application process, depending on the specific state or agency. Candidates must provide a specified number of references who can corroborate their ability to serve the role of a foster parent.
8. Complete a Background Check
Some states require this step to be done earlier in the process, such as at the time of the application. The background check is an important step to prevent those with a history of abusing children from becoming certified. The agency will take fingerprints and check local, state and FBI records. All persons age 18 or older in the home are also required to take background checks.
9. Obtain Licensure
Once a candidate completes the previous steps and passes the home study and background checks he or she will obtain licensure, certification, or official approval to become a foster parent. At this exciting juncture, it's important to remember you are not alone. Agencies will continue to provide ongoing support, and often ongoing classes, support groups or other resources.
10. Receive Foster Placement
Once certification or approval has been received, a foster child will be placed in the home. Parents should remember care for a child may often be needed on short notice and may last as little as one night or as long months or years. According The Children's Action Network, an organization dedicated to increasing public awareness of children's issues, the average length of a foster child stays in the system is approximately two years.
Making a Difference
Providing a child with a safe, nurturing environment through fostering can make a huge difference in his or her life. Once people are familiar with how to become a foster parent, the process is less daunting. Although it takes time and patience, the chance to impact a child's life at a point when he or she needs it most can be the reward of a lifetime.