Are YOU Ready To Be a Foster Parent?
The news is full of talk about the “foster care crisis” with more kids coming into foster care and fewer foster parents available to care for them. You may be wondering if you could be part of the solution. Are YOU ready to be a foster parent?
For various reasons, mostly increased drug use nationwide (particularly opioid use), the number of kids entering foster care has risen steadily in the last few years. Unfortunately, the numbers of foster families have not grown to meet the need. Every state is actively looking for good committed foster families. Could you be that family?
Take Our 9 Question Quiz
1. Do you have enough room in your home?
Generally, your home must be big enough to provide enough comfortable space for all of you to live, work, and play as a family. Working appliances, clean running water (hot and cold), and heat and light are not just basic necessities. They are foundational requirements for providing a safe place for a child to be placed in your care.
You should expect to provide an individual bed for each child. Some states designate a specific “square foot of space” in the bedroom per child in care, and others give a maximum number of children per room. Of course, if you are opening your home to babies, you need a crib that meets current safety standards. The majority of states require that children of different genders sleep in separate rooms. Each state has slightly different requirements for how that works with sibling groups and infants.
2. Can your home pass a safety inspection?
You will be asked to prove that your home complies with local building codes, as well as state and township zoning requirements. The safety inspection will include verification of working smoke detectors installed near the sleeping areas. A majority of the states require working portable fire extinguishers, too. Many states also now require working carbon monoxide detectors.
It’s crucial to have hazardous materials (cleaning supplies, medications, chemicals, weapons, tools) locked and stored in a place inaccessible to children. Most states have stringent gun storage laws for foster homes. Ammunition must be stored separately.
If you have a pool or a hot tub, you will need to prove that there is key-only access to the pool space, with the key stored out of reach of children. It will be necessary to have at least two “life-saving” devices available, like a reach hook or safety rings with rope. Many states have precise rules about the pool pumps, drain gates, and pool covers. Be sure to do your research in preparation for your inspection.
For those who use a private water source, such as well water, you might be asked to supply a report on the condition of the water.
3. Can you meet the demands, physically and emotionally, of caring for a foster child?
Because caring for children in foster care is a physically and emotionally taxing role, expect to be interviewed about your childhood, relationships in your family of origin and other life experiences.
These interviews will be helpful in determining what healthy parenting skills you already possess and what areas you might need to consider for some “self-work.” It’s often said in foster and adoptive circles that you need to “deal with your own stuff” to be able to help a child find the healing that your home is meant to provide.
4. Is your home and relationship (with spouse/partner) stable?
You do not have to be married to foster. Similarly, a history of divorce does not disqualify you from fostering. You can be single or married, straight or LGBTQ. If you can demonstrate the ability to provide a stable, safe and nurturing home for a child that comes into your care, you will make a strong candidate for fostering.
It’s also essential to prove that you (and your spouse/partner if applicable) possess character traits like flexibility in meeting the needs of the children and in working with their birth families, along with a willingness to partner with the social services agency that represents the child. These traits are often assessed through interviews during a home study and the character references conducted by the caseworker(s).
5. Do you have a history or a record of abuse or neglect?
Similar to determining your physical and emotional fitness for the job of fostering, you will be asked to disclose any personal history of abuse or neglect, as the caseworker wants to be sure you’ve gotten adequate support and care, and that parenting a child with a history of violence won’t trigger you in unhealthy ways.
It also means fully disclosing any investigations by Child Protective Services for abuse or neglect perpetrated by you. These records will not necessarily automatically disqualify you from the role of fostering. It’s imperative that you disclose everything you can think of in these interviews. Information discovered by a caseworker after the fact or by another route never goes over as well as does self-reporting.
6. Have you or any other adult in your home been convicted of a crime?
Certain criminal offenses that lead to convictions can disqualify you as a foster parent. As part of the process, you and all adults (18 and older) residing in your home will undergo background checks and fingerprinting. If you have particular questions about this requirement, it’s wise to talk with your agency or caseworker early in the process.
7. Do you have an income that meets your family’s need?
You don’t have to be rich to be a foster parent. You will need to provide proof of your financial ability to adequately care for your current family. Remember that the state funding you will receive for a foster child will be help with the expenses of caring for the child, but it is not going to offset all the costs.
It’s acceptable when fostering for both parents to work outside the home, but you will need to prove your ability to provide safe child care that meets the state foster requirements.
8. Are you committed to working with the child’s birth parents to help the family reunify?
The goal of foster care is family reunification. After a child is removed from his birth family, the social workers work with them to be able to regain custody of their child. Foster parents are expected to co-parent with them with the goal of helping them reunify.
The birth parents will be expected to do things such as find a job, find a safe place to live, go to drug or alcohol rehabilitation, be involved in their child’s education, and visit their child on a state-approved visitation schedule. When they can complete this plan, their child will be returned to them.
9. Are you ready to learn more about parenting kids who have experienced neglect and abuse?
Children who have experienced the trauma of neglect, abuse, and removal from their home need a different type of parenting. The agency you will work with will provide state-required pre-fostering education. The hours vary, but you should expect 30 to 35 hours of training. Usually, the agency will work with you to make this training as convenient as possible.
So how did you score? ARE you ready to be a foster parent?
Image Credit: Ed Yourdon,daniel fortin