Becoming a Foster Parent

Becoming a foster parent involves working with an agency to become licensed in your state. The process can take several months from start to finish, but the time spent is well worth it.

Foster parents are necessary to keep children safe in your community. Agencies are always in need of dependable foster parents. The process to become licensed to accept children into your home may vary slightly depending on your state and agency, but generally follows this pattern.

Deciding to Become a Foster Parent

The decision to become a foster parent is one that you should weigh seriously. You are basically agreeing to welcome a stranger into your home as a new family member with little notice and no assurance of how long they will be staying. The commitment should be one that you make wholeheartedly with the best intentions of allowing this child to stay as long as they need to.

The decision-making process should involve both spouses and even children who are already in the home, as their lives will be affected as well. Making the decision to foster is an ongoing process as you move through the licensing requirements. Understand that if at any point in the process you change your mind it is never too late to say no. Foster parenting is a volunteer position and cannot be forced on you no matter where you are in process. It is far better to decide that it’s not a good choice for your family before a child is placed with you than after they enter your home. This would only create another disruption in a child’s life, risking feelings of rejection and attachment issues for that child later.

Choosing to become a foster parent is a rewarding experience. There are blessings hidden in the ordinary days of a foster parent. Foster parenting can also be difficult with the unpredictability that it brings and the tough issues that come with it. Foster parents are in high demand because it is a demanding job, but it is worth the sacrifices that are made for the children. These children never asked to be in these situations and they have no control of the outcomes. What they need are people to care about them no matter where they come from and no matter how they respond to the traumas that they have been exposed to.

Contacting an Agency

Once you decide that you want to become a foster parent the best place to start is by contacting your local Department of Social Services. Even if you have lingering questions or have not made your final decision it is perfectly fine to take this step and contact an agency. You should be given ample opportunities to ask questions. There may also be other agencies in your area that license foster parents as well. Do a little research and talk to other foster families for recommendations.

An informal information meeting will likely begin your process once you contact the foster care agency. It may be a private visit with a social worker or a public question and answer type meeting. During this meeting you can have your most pressing questions answered and determine if you meet the basic requirements to become a foster parent. This also gives the agency an opportunity to screen interested families to see if they are even candidates for the process. This meeting should help you determine the next steps in your licensing process.

Applying & Preliminary Approval

Once your questions have been answered by the agency and you decide to continue with the process, you will complete an application to become a foster parent. The agency will assist you with this and entire process of becoming licensed. You will be required to consent for a criminal background check. A record of child abuse or neglect, violence or sexual crimes would automatically disqualify a person from becoming a foster parent, as will other charges depending on your state and agency. Once your application and background check are approved you will continue to the next step.

Foster Parent Training

Foster parent training classes are one of the most important steps before a family can be licensed and may consume the most time. These classes are known by different names and the time demands vary, but should be provided for free through the licensing agency. The purpose of them is to educate perspective foster parents. They include education about parenting children who are in foster care. These parenting strategies are different from traditional strategies because of the trauma and circumstances that bring the children into care in the first place. They will also educate prospective foster parents on the reasons that children enter foster care, the process and the people involved. These classes should give foster parents much of the information they need to know before the first child enters their home, including the foster parent’s role. At this point in the process do not hesitate to ask questions. This is the time to equip yourself with information and skills that you will need to be successful as a foster parent.

The Homestudy

The homestudy is a major component to becoming licensed as a foster parent. It involves a series of visits with a social worker in your home and sometimes at the agency or other meeting place to get to know you, your family and your lifestyle. You will be asked many questions about yourself including your work, your daily life, your childhood, your marriage, other children in your home and your parenting styles. This process may seem invasive, but be assured that the agency is not looking for reasons to deny you as a foster parent, but to get to know you. You are unique and have your own story, so don’t ever feel like you have to give the ‘right’ answers. Social workers want to approve families to foster because they are in such need of them as a resource. However, they do have a responsibility to ensure that the children placed in the home will be safe and provided for. Along with the questions, you will also need to submit to a home and fire inspection. The homestudy process also gives the agency an opportunity to evaluate and discuss with you the types of children that would best be cared for in your home, including the number of children, their ages and needs.

License Approval

Once the homestudy and all of the agency requirements have been met, the agency will prepare a report with your information for the state to review. The state will then (hopefully) approve your application. Your agency will likely be the one to notify you that your license has been granted and prepare to place your home on the agency’s vacancy list. When a child comes into foster care that matches the criteria your family had been approved for you will be contacted. You have the right to accept the placement of the child into your home or deny it if you feel that you cannot meet the child’s needs. Once the child comes into your home–Congratulations! You are a foster parent!

Foster parenting is a journey that takes you to some of the most remarkable places and at the same time can show you some of the darkest valleys of humanity. The view is usually foggy as you look ahead, but the impact you can have in the moment is priceless.

This is a general overview of the licensing process, but there may be other requirements and steps depending on your state and agency. If you have any specific questions about becoming a foster parent please feel free to contact me!

Check out these pages:

What is Foster Care?

Adoption & Foster Care Resources