Children are placed in foster care through the Department of Child and Family Services in the county where they live. Keep in mind each state and county has slightly different regulations regarding foster care, so be sure to check into guidelines where you life. Definitely check out the specifics where you live.
HOW TO BECOME A FOSTER PARENT: STEP-BY-STEP
1. PRAY! And consider if your family is ready to be a foster family.
This first step should not, and truthfully SHOULD NOT be skipped. Pray about this. Is this where the Lord is calling you? Are you prepared for the hard times, not just the mushy happy days? Is your family on the same page as you? Do you have a strong support system?
If you pray and don't feel this is where the Lord is leading you at this time, don't be discouraged! It's just not the right season in your life. The Lord will lead you where you need to be in His timing. You can absolutely find ways to positively impact the life of a child even if foster care is not right for you or your family, and that is okay.
2. Research the process
Depending on your state or county, your requirements may be different. More than likely, your family will also need to: pass physicals, agree to no spanking, provide references, agree to ongoing trainings, pass background checks and a home study, as well as working with the birth family and all members of the team, with the goal of reunification. Because, that's the true goal of foster care: to be a temporary place for the child (though that may not also be the end result).
Also, research and pray about which agency you would like to go through. The agency will be very involved in your life and time as a foster family, and you want to make sure both of you are on the same page.
3. Contact a foster care agency to request information
In the United States, every foster child comes into care through the Department of Human Services in the county where he or she lives. You can be a foster parent directly with the county, or you can work with a partner agency, such as Lutheran Family Services, Catholic Charities, or many other agencies.
If you work with an agency, you still work with the Department of Human (or Social) Services, but you work with the agency, too. This is something not everyone is aware of when they first became a foster parent.
The advantage of working through an agency is that you receive an additional layer of support. Often the reimbursement rate is higher through an agency because agencies typically place higher-need children. The disadvantage is that you are now working with 2 layers of systems, and you often have harder-to-place children coming to you. The county will call their own foster homes first, then once those are full they begin to call agency homes, starting with the larger agencies and those with whom they have a better working relationship, then calling smaller agencies.
4. Attend an orientation session
Each agency offers an orientation session where the foster care process is explained and your questions will be answered. Agencies do their best to offer a realistic view of foster care while at the same time recruiting excited new foster families. Some do a better job of this than others.
5. Attend Foster Parent Training workshops
If you decide to move forward with the process, you will attend Foster Parent Training workshops. Some agencies begin the Home study process during this time and other wait until after you have completed the training sessions. This training lasts 6-9 weeks for a total of 20-30 hours and is called MAPP (Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) training in some areas.
6. Complete a Home Study
A home study for foster care and adoption is a large document prepared by a case worker that explains why your family is qualified to care for children in need of placement. The case worker will come to your home for a series of visits, then prepare the home study document. This process takes anywhere from 2-6 months.
A private adoption home study is paid for by the prospective parents, but typically a foster care home study is provided to you by the agency or county.
Again, this can seem like an invasive or lengthy process, but the goal is not to exclude but to include families. However, keep in mind the ultimate goal is not about you but about the safe placement of children, which is as it should be.
Here is some of what’s addressed in a home study: family of origin, current family situation, parenting strategies, financial situation, why you want to foster and/or adopt, daily life schedule, current children's ages/needs/attitudes towards foster care/adoption, references and background checks, safety, which children you are willing (and able) to accept for placement, and transportation, to name a few.
You will fill out a lot of paperwork, including a background check, fingerprints, and there will be a home inspection. You might have to make some adjustments to your home such as additional fire extinguishers, locks on medicine cabinets and cleaning supplies, posting house rules and a fire escape plan, or other requirements based on the rules in your state and county.
7. Approval and placement of children
Once your Foster Parent Training Classes are done, your home study is complete and all your background checks and fingerprints are returned and accepted, you are approved to be foster parents. Congratulations!
The next step is placement. Generally the foster placement agency or county will call you when a child becomes available, explaining the child’s needs and situation. You will discover the way placement is handled varies widely, even within one agency, because at placement time people are often working in crisis-mode.
Becoming a foster parent is not everyone’s calling, and no one should ever go into being a foster parent with a glorified view of what is involved. If your calling is not to become a foster parent, there are still many ways you can become involved and support children who are in need (click here for some ideas).
I believe each of us has a calling to get involved in some way. God bless you for the work that you do for kids who need it.
Jesus lover, wife, momma, teacher, and hopeful writer.