When children are removed from their biological parents and placed into the social system, foster care and adoption are the options presented for finding them permanent replacement homes. If you are considering starting a home foster care agency, there are several things to consider.
There are many resources that offer helpful information on getting started and encourage you to ask the right questions when assessing whether or not becoming a foster parent is right for you.
The process for becoming a foster parent varies slightly by state. Most states have a foster care information line and local child welfare agency. If you are uncertain where these organisations are located, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway, which is part of the Children's Bureau.
It contains a directory of state child welfare agencies, as well as information about foster care specific to each state.
The National Foster Parent Association is another aid in finding your local contacts, as well as for gathering basic information about what is required of a foster parent.
In general, most states require the following: an introduction or orientation to foster parenting, a formal application and interview, a home inspection, training coursework and a license.
There are different types of licenses for foster parents, but everyone begins with a general care license. You obtain this by meeting the requirements of your state. General foster care licenses are usually valid for two years and require coursework during that time to renew.
A specialised care license is available to parents who have fostered for at least one year. Typically, foster parents are required to complete specialised care coursework and submit at least two references. The duties that accompany a specialised license vary by state; by obtaining one, you may be considered a parent for children with exceptional needs.
Emergency care can be added to a general or specialised license after additional coursework. It makes a foster parent eligible for child placement with slight or no notice, such as when a child needs placement in an emergency situation.
The NFPA encourages foster parents to obtain liability or property damage insurance when taking in a child. Some states require potential parents to prove that their current insurance will cover certain unforeseen events and some states have policies in place for state-funded coverage. Most of the time, commercial companies don't have a foster parent insurance plan, so it's important to talk with your caseworker, local child welfare agency and current insurance provider before deciding to become a foster parent.
Although the specific guidelines for becoming a foster care agency differ by state, there are some basic umbrella requirements. Some include being at least 21 years of age, background check, home inspection, in-depth interview, application submission and the completion of a training program.
A reimbursement program or monthly stipend is provided to help cover expenses, but often it falls short of covering 100 per cent of the child's needs. Personal financial evaluation is an important first step in deciding to become a foster parent.
Several online training programs can help prepare you for foster parenting. You should still contact your local child welfare agencies to ensure they recognise such courses before beginning.
Some include Foster Parent College and Foster Parent Training Online. Adoption.org recognises several other preparatory programs, including Conspicuous Families: Race, Culture & Adoption, developed by Adoption Learning Partners; Adoption Road Map Family Preparation Course, from the Learning Center and training courses through Foster Care and Adoptive Community.
Reach out to your local child welfare office first. They can often put you in contact with a current foster parent, who would be a valuable asset in learning more about the program and requirements for licensing.
There is no definitive step-by-step process for becoming a foster parent. Requirements vary and doing thorough research on the foster care program in your state is the best way to avoid error.