If you're still thinking about fostering but not quite ready to jump in yet, read this. But if you're ready to take the next step, this one is for you.
Steps to Becoming a Foster Parent
Disclaimer: I am a foster parent. I am not a lawyer, foster agency worker, state agency worker, or anything else even remotely professional (I'm writing this in my pajamas while drinking a glass of wine). My advice and suggestions are based solely on my own experiences. Rules and laws may change from area-to-area or agency-to-agency.
1. Find some foster agencies in your area. You can choose to go with a private agency or your state's child welfare office. I recommend going with a private agency as they generally have more resources. To find agencies you can try calling your state's child welfare office and asking, or do an online search for "foster agency in (your state)." I recommend looking for agencies within your own county, and close to your home. Proximity makes life easier when making frequent trips to your agency's office for parental visits and other such things.
2. Attend info sessions at several agencies. Once you find the phone numbers for agencies call and ask if/when they have an informational session for prospective foster parents. Most agencies have an orientation once a month or so. Attend at several different agencies and choose an agency that gives you a good feeling. You'll be working very closely with these people for a long time - choose an agency that you like!
3. Complete the application. Once you choose an agency to move forward with, complete and submit your application. The application really isn't all that complicated and can be done pretty quickly.
4. Stay in touch with your agency. Your agency should contact you once they get your application. But if a few weeks go by and you don't hear from them, give them a call or send an email. In my experience (and drawing from anecdotal evidence of friends) agencies are difficult to work with in the beginning phases. My theory is that only a small percentage of interested parties actually stick with the whole process and end up fostering. The agency doesn't want to waste its time or resources licensing someone who isn't really interested. If you're persistent, they know that you're serious.
5. Take the training classes. After processing your application, your agency should help you get scheduled with your state's foster parent training classes. The two that I hear of most often are called PRIDE and MAPP. This step is very important: DON'T FREAK OUT! If it feels like it's all becoming way too real, don't stress out! Just because you're signed up for classes doesn't mean that you have to become a foster parent. Many people take the classes and realize that fostering isn't for them. They let their agency know and go on about their merry little lives. But you won't really have a good idea about what to expect until you start taking the classes. Classes run anywhere from approximately four to nine weeks.
6. Do your Home Study interviews. While you're taking the classes a licensing representative from your agency should be interviewing you for your home study. During this process they'll walk through your house and let you know of any licensing requirements that you'll need to meet. People worry to no end about the home visit, but truly it's probably the easiest part of the whole process. Your home just needs to be sanitary (not spotless) and have basic safety features like smoke detectors and working toilets and doors. You may be told that you need a certain number of beds or cribs for the kids you'll be accepting. Rooms do not need to be decorated. The interviews, on the other hand, are much more invasive. Be prepared for all kinds of questions. Read more about the home study process here.
7. Final walk-through. After your classes are finished your agency will come out to do a final walk-through of your house, basically just to make sure that it's still standing and that you have beds ready for kids. For myself (read my own timeline here) and several others I know, this final walk-through was delayed several times. I have no idea why. I say it just to warn you. It's frustrating that you've done all this work and you're totally ready to go, and you've got your final walk-through scheduled for the day after your last class, and then it keeps getting postponed and before you know it it's three months later. After the final walk-through your agency rep will write-up your home study and submit all the paperwork to the state for their approval. Allow a couple weeks for this all to happen. It might help to call your licensing rep about two weeks after the final walk-through to see if he/she has submitted the paperwork to the state yet.
8. Wait for your license. After your licensing rep submits the paperwork to the state you'll have to wait for the state to process it and approve the license. Then they'll mail you a copy of your license. It should take about two to four weeks after your rep submits the paperwork until you actually receive a paper copy of your license in the mail.
9. Do Happy Dance. You're licensed!
10. Wait for kids. Wait, wait, and wait some more. We only waited two weeks for our first placement from the day we received our paper license. But it felt like for. ever. Might I suggest that you check out some of these awesome resources while waiting? And here's a nice little piece about ways to prep your home for fostering.
And that's it. One little step at a time, and eventually you'll have newkids in your life. But it all starts with that first call to a foster agency. Pick up the phone and make that call today!