How to Become a Foster Parent
If before the pandemic it was difficult to find enough adults who were willing and able to care for the more than 400,000 children in foster care in the United States, it is not surprising, but since life as we knew it has come to an end. it became incredibly difficult.
The very structure of foster parents, like everything else, changed dramatically during the pandemic – court hearings were postponed again and again, visits with the biological family were stopped, and visits to social workers became virtual. Even with these precautions, adding another child to your home carries an increased risk of infection, and many foster parents who were already licensed and active at the time of the coronavirus hit were hesitant to take a new seat, whether it was because they themselves have weakened immunity. , or they are worried about the health of elderly family members or someone else in the house.
However, the need for adoptive parents is not diminishing; In fact, as two people from child welfare systems recently told the New York Times :
“If you’ve ever been encouraged to help children in need and have the opportunity, now is the time to get involved,” said Rita Soronen, President and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
“It’s scary to participate, but once you practice and gain experience, you know it’s doable,” said Chastity [Gomez, Colorado adoptive parent]. “The impact you can have on the lives of these children is incredible.”
Here’s what to keep in mind if you are thinking of making a leap with foster parents during these most unusual times.
As a former foster parent, I can tell you that the child protection system in the United States is like a maze. Its rules, regulations, and requirements can vary widely from state to state, and sometimes even from county to county. First, you need to identify the department in your state that manages its child protection system. This can be your state department of social services, the department of work and family, or the department of child safety – or whatever your state calls it.
The US Department of Health and Human Services maintains a directory to help you get on the right track, depending on where you live. For example, my home state of Pennsylvania has an “Adoption and Residency Network” operated by its department of social services. When my husband and I started to struggle with the licensing process, I called this network and asked for help. They sent me a list of approved admissions and admissions agencies in my area, which we then investigated one by one.
You also need to obtain a license through an agency, and choosing the right agency is one of the first important decisions you will make as a potential adoptive parent, especially during these stressful and uncertain times. Call several agencies and speak with the director or other executive about the services they provide and the agency’s overall mission or philosophy. You need to make sure that not only is the office conveniently located, but that the social workers are competent and responsive, and that the agency’s values align with your own. As David Dodge writes for The Times:
According to Soronen, the culture and quality of agencies varies greatly, so it is recommended that you talk to a few before making any decisions. Some private religious agencies will not work with LGBTQ people, singles, unmarried couples, or parents of a different faith. For those who want to work without such restrictions, the Campaign for Human Rights, a national advocacy organization for LGBTQ people, maintains a directory as part of its All Children, All Families project.
Preparation is everything
The process of licensing adoptive parents itself is quite extensive – and rightfully so. For obvious reasons, it is incredibly important for agencies to conduct a thorough background check of any prospective adoptive parent, as well as gather information about their mental health, financial stability, and the safety of their home. The amount of training required – most of which is likely to be virtual now – will vary depending on your agency, but will most likely be in the range of 10-30 hours initially, and then additional annual training will be required after that.
My husband and I attended trainings on a variety of topics, from how to fill out the huge pile of paperwork we received, to how to raise children based on a therapeutic relationship model. Whatever your agency has to offer, I suggest taking as much as possible. The bare minimum will give you a license, but having a license and being ready is not the same thing. Your agency may also have other suggestions for watching videos and articles or books to better prepare you for foster care.
Here are a few books that I offer you to get started:
- Until the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Parents (Chris Beam)
- One Small Boat: The Story of a Little Girl Lost, Then Found (Katie Harrison)
- Another seat at the table (Katie Harrison)
- Three Little Words: A Memoir (Ashley Rhodes-Courter)
You should also dive into foster parent support groups, both locally and nationally. Given that most of your workouts are likely to be virtual, you won’t be able to interact with other potential adoptive parents during workouts as you normally would. Contact your agency for help connecting with other local families via Zoom, text messages, or email. Look for foster communities on social media – Facebook is a good place to start. Join groups and take time to read previous posts and comments. You will find a wealth of experience and wisdom to learn from.
Have a backup plan
Even in the best of times, foster parents need to take breaks, whether it’s a few hours alone to do errands or the weekend to go to the wedding (you know, as soon as we can do that kind of thing again). Be sure to ask your agency what their policy is regarding who else can look after the children in your care, as there are often different requirements for, say, part of the day rather than overnight visit. Ask about temporary (very short-term) care options through your agency. You can also partner with another foster family at your agency to exchange temporary care with each other if needed – your own temporary foster cell.
Given the time we are going through, you should also ask what policies and procedures the agency is using to tackle the pandemic – what happens, for example, if you contract the virus and become too sick to care for the children in your home. home? What do you do and who do you notify if one of the children in your care develops symptoms of COVID-19? Having a clear set of expectations about how to deal with someone else’s illness in your home can help alleviate at least one stressor if it does occur.
To avoid surprises in the future, you will also want to have a good understanding of how things like home visits by social workers and biological family visits are handled now, and how they will be coordinated once the pandemic is under control.