Becoming a Foster Parent
Foster care is a protective service to children and their families when families can no longer care for their children. There are many reasons and circumstances that make it difficult for biological families to meet the needs of their children, which include poverty, substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness, loss of a job or lack of support from extended family and community.
In foster care, the children are provided with a safe, nurturing, loving family for a temporary period of time. There are many types of foster care, including traditional care, emergency/shelter care, medical/therapeutic care, relative/kinship care, respite/short-term care and tribal care. However, foster parenting is not a lifetime commitment to a child and his or her family, but a commitment to be meaningful in the child and family’s lifetime.
What foster care is:
- a chance to make the world a better place -- one child at a time
- one of the most challenging experiences you will have in your life
- one of the most rewarding opportunities you will ever volunteer for
What foster care is not:
- it is not simple: emotionally, socially or in terms of your time
- it is not something you do for yourself - it's about the child
- it is not a way to make money
How to Become a Foster Family
All types of foster parents are needed in every part of our country. Being a successful foster parent is hard work and it requires opening yourself and your home. Yet, foster parenting can be the most gratifying work you will ever consider. The heart of it, of course, is working with children and their families. Foster care also involves partnering with social workers, schools and community resources to meet an infant, child or young person’s needs. All types of people make good foster parents as we all have our own special talents, but keep in mind that foster parenting is not for everyone. If your family is thinking of foster care, contact an agency near you, and begin the discussion.
Foster Parent Qualifications
The key qualification is being able to meet the physical, emotional and developmental needs of a child. Foster care agencies are able to help you evaluate whether this is something you might be able to do. They do this through a process that helps you and the agency evaluate your capabilities. In addition, most agencies would expect that you meet the following:
- Provide 24-hour care and supervision on a daily basis
- Be able to care for yourself financially without the child’s stipend
- Be flexible, patient and understanding
- Have a sense of humor
- Have a home free of fire and safety hazards
- Complete a criminal/protective services background check
- Have the ability to work as a member of a team
Both single and dual-parent families make great foster parents. Most states and regions also welcome same-sex partners as foster parents.
All foster parents in the United States must be licensed or approved in order to provide care for children. The licensing process is different in each state -- and may even vary in different counties -- yet, there are certain steps that almost everyone follows. Please recognize that every agency has a few variations in the process, and the steps do not always follow the same sequence.
Step 1: Find a Phone Number or an Email Address
Foster care is provided by both private agencies and public agencies (state, county and tribal).
The Child Welfare Information Gateway - State Resources is a great place to find contact information for your state. Look for the Foster Care & Adoption Directory.
In addition, your Department of Human Services or Department of Children and Family Services will have a listing of approved agencies. You can find foster care agencies in your area through an Internet search. A typical Internet search may involve key phrases, such as “becoming a foster parent Minnesota
” or “foster care Minnesota
There are also a websites that can help you find county and local agencies, such as AdoptUSKids
and Child Welfare Information Gateway
Step 2: Make the Call
Once you have identified an agency or agencies, the best way to start the process is to make a phone call. The agency will ask for personal information such as your name, address and phone number so they may send information about the agency and the licensing/certification process. They may also discuss your motivation and their need for foster families.
If there are multiple foster care agencies in your area, be sure to contact several. It is important to find an agency with which you are comfortable. In many states you can chose to become a foster parent with the public agency (state or county) or chose a privately run foster care agency.
Step 3: Initial Meeting
Some agencies offer information meetings. At an information meeting the agency presents an overview of the role and responsibilities of foster parents. Information is also given about the agency’s need for foster parents and the type of children they serve in foster care.
Other agencies will schedule an appointment in your home for the initial meeting. Similar introductory information will be provided and the agency may begin to gather information about you.
Whether you attend an information meeting at the agency or meet in your home, the first meeting will likely end with the licensing worker giving you an application and forms to complete. The worker should also give you a copy of the state foster care licensing rules and regulations.
Step 4: Exploring Your Interests and Capabilities
The licensing process is designed to help both you and the agency. While the process may vary, it always has two equally important purposes:
- to help you, as a family, determine whether foster care is the right thing for your family, and to assess the children you might best serve.
- to help the agency determine whether you meet the requirements for licensure and to help them understand which children would fit with your family.
Step 5: Family Assessment
The family assessment is sometimes referred to as a “home study.” It involves gathering information about each member of your family and formally assessing your capability to care for children. The agency will likely ask you to complete a social history and several questionnaires. In addition, the licensing worker will ask you many questions about your childhood, relationships and interests. The assessment is extensive -- but usually not difficult -- and gives you an opportunity to think about yourself, your interests and your motivations.
Many agencies conduct the family assessment in group sessions and combine it with orientation and training. There are several curriculums, such as Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education (PRIDE) or the Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (MAPP), which provide a formal process for the assessment. Other agencies may conduct the assessment and initial orientation on an individual basis.
Step 6: References
The agency will ask you to provide three or more references. These should be people who know you and can help the agency assess your capabilities and interests. The licensing worker will either mail the references a form to complete, or will conduct a phone interview. State regulations usually define the completed references as confidential and they cannot be shared with prospective foster families.
Step 7: Background Checks
The background checks are a formal review of your criminal and child protection history. It will require fingerprints and an authorization for the agency to check your background. The fingerprints and authorization are used to check local, state and FBI databases. A previous arrest or conviction does not automatically prohibit one from providing foster care. It depends on the charges and when they took place. The background check is important to ensure that people with a history of potentially harming children are not licensed.
Step 6: Home Safety Check
The agency is required to look at your house or apartment to assure it is safe for children. Foster care and safety researchers have identified several risk factors in homes. It is impossible to describe them all here, but the licensing worker will have a checklist that must be completed. Please remember that the home safety checklist is intended to help protect you and all members of your family. Nearly all problems identified by the checklist can be fixed. In certain circumstances, homes will also need to be inspected by a fire marshal or building inspector. Your family may also be asked to document such things as pet vaccinations and water drinkability if you have your own well.
Step 7: Orientation and Pre-Service Training
Most states require 10 to 30 hours of training before you can become licensed or before a child is matched with your family. Some agencies require even more hours and may include CPR and first aid training as part of the pre-service requirements. The orientation should include information about how best to work with your state or private agency, as well as information about caring for children with special needs.
Step 8: Licensure
At the end of the study process, the licensing worker will complete a written report with recommendations. The recommendations will generally include information about the children that might be best for your family, as well as areas of training you might need. The worker should provide you with a copy of the written report. The licensing worker will also submit the appropriate forms to the licensing agency in order to have the license issued. In most states they cannot place children in your home until the actual license has been issued.