Here's what the home study process is like for prospective foster parents. Once again I find myself reminding you that I don't work for any social services state or private agency - these are just my ramblings derived from my own experiences.
During the home study process you should expect:
Multiple visits from a licensing representative. A licensing rep will usually come out to your house at least twice, sometimes more. Often they'll come once before or during your training sessions, at which time they'll sit down and ask you lots of questions and do the safety walk-through. Then they'll come back once your classes are completed just to make sure everything is ready to go. Sometimes the interview takes a while so they might break it into a few different visits - and sometimes I believe the licensing rep might actually have you come into the office for the interview portion.
Personal and sometimes invasive questions. The heart of the home study is the interview. The licensing rep will sit down with anyone living in the house and ask all sorts of probing questions. They'll focus mainly on the primary caretakers in the house (mom/dad). If there are children living in the house the licensing rep will want to meet them, and if they're old enough to communicate the licensing rep will probably speak privately with them. Honesty is obviously the best policy, so just relax and answer the questions as they come. Some questions you might be asked include:
- Where did you grow up?
- What was your childhood like?
- What is your relationship like now with your family members (parents, siblings)?
- What are your religious beliefs? Do you attend religious services?
- What is your marriage/relationship like?
- How did you and your spouse/partner meet?
- How do you and your spouse/partner settle conflicts?
- How often do you and your spouse/partner fight or argue?
- Is there any domestic violence in your relationship? In your past relationships?
- How do you/will you discipline your children?
- Do you use corporal punishment with your children?
- How were you disciplined as a child?
- How do your family and friends feel about you becoming a foster parent?
- How do your children feel about having foster siblings?
- What kinds of activities do you like to do as a family?
- Why do you want to do foster care?
A safety walk-through of your house. At the first home visit the licensing rep should walk through your house to assess the required safety elements of a licensed foster home, such as working smoke detectors in or near bedrooms, fire extinguishers, a secure locked space for medicines and cleaning supplies, and fire escape routes in each room. You don't have to have all of these things in place prior to your first home study visit. Your licensing rep will give you an opportunity to put all the safety features in place, and will re-check at a future visit.
To be asked for paperwork. You'll probably need shot records for your pets; physicals completed by a physician for everyone in the house; and copies of your marriage certificate (if married), driver's license, and car insurance. You will probably also be given additional paperwork to complete - for example, we had to have our well water tested and fill out paperwork for that; we had to check all of our infant and children's equipment for recalls and sign a document saying we did that; and we had to create a fire evacuation plan in writing.
An assessment/discussion of how many and what kinds of children you'll accept. The licensing rep will assess how may children you can be licensed to accept. The exact formula differs state-to-state, but it usually includes some combination of bedroom square-footage per person, number of beds or cribs available, and state-allowed maximums (for example, only a total of six children in the home under the age of 18). The licensing rep will also ask you how many children you'd feel comfortable accepting, what ages, and what kinds of special needs you're capable of parenting such as developmental delays, physical or health challenges, or attachment disorders.
Delays. Lots and lots of delays. This one always throws the newbies for a loop. You finish all of your classes, get your background check clearance, and you have your home all set-up and decorated for new little people to move in. You are READY TO GO! Except that you aren't licensed yet, because your licensing rep has to come out for the final walk-through of your home. They keep calling the day before the scheduled visit to push it back by a couple of weeks. It's frustrating to say the least, and there isn't much you can do about it. But prepare yourself to expect this little bump in the road. For more about our delays, read how long it took us to become foster parents. But I swear it isn't just us - this has happened to nearly every foster parent I know.
What next? After you've taken the trainings, received your background check clearance, and the licensing rep has been out for the final walk-through of your home, the licensing rep will write-up your home study and send it in to the state office for the final sign-off. Then you'll get your license in the mail. In our case, it took our licensing rep one week after the final walk-through to write up the home study and mail it in to the state, and we received our license in the mail two weeks after she mailed the home study in to the state - so we got the license three weeks after our final walk-through. The day we got our license I sent a short and friendly email to our agency to let them know we got the license. I just wanted to make sure they had us on the availability list! And after allllll that waiting, we finally got our first placement two weeks later!