The road to foster care might seem long and intimidating, but here\u2019s a map to help navigate your way through. On any given day, 13,000 children in Indiana enter the foster care system, needing a safe and loving home where they can grow and thrive. Foster care offers temporary care \u2014 as little as a couple months and as long as a few years \u2014 for children whose biological parents are unable to do so. While many families who foster also choose to open their homes for adoption, the ultimate goal of foster care is to reunite children with their parents. Foster families don\u2019t have to look a certain way \u2014 you don\u2019t have to be rich or married or even have children of your own. If you have considered fostering but aren\u2019t sure you have what it takes, it\u2019s a path worth exploring, as it can have a lasting impact on a child\u2019s life. Getting Started The first step on your fostering journey is choosing a foster care agency to work with, and it\u2019s important to find one you\u2019re comfortable with. The agency will walk you through the licensing process, which differs from state to state, and support you once a child is placed in your home. Most agencies offer information sessions where you can learn more about fostering needs, as well as the agency itself. When checking out prospective agencies, consider if they are publicly or privately operated, what services and supports they provide, the office\u2019s proximity to your home, and any costs related to licensing. Once you\u2019ve selected an agency, you can begin the steps to becoming a licensed foster care provider, including completing pre-service training and a home study. Indiana requires at least 10 hours of pre-service training, though more may be required depending on the agency you work with and the type of licensure you\u2019re seeking. You\u2019ll be introduced to things like the child welfare system, how to set up your home, the child\u2019s support team, principles of trauma-informed care and behaviors to expect in foster children. This initial training is followed up with 15 hours of ongoing training annually for recertification. The home study is an extensive report that usually takes about three to six months to complete and provides a broad overview of your life so that a child can be matched to your home. A case worker will interview you, your family and others, and will include information about your relationships and social life, the neighborhood you live in, your financial status, daily routines, parenting experience, and why you want to foster. It will also include a medical assessment, background checks and references. What To Expect When Fostering Once a child is placed in your home, your biggest role is to provide them the love and support of a family. However, this includes some additional responsibilities. You can expect the case worker from your agency, as well as the child\u2019s case worker and other providers, to make regular home visits based on your child\u2019s needs. \u201cIn other words, there will be lots of people in and out of your home to surround you and the child with the supports needed for success,\u201d says Brenda Chapin, vice president of program administration for The Villages, an Indiana-based foster care and adoption agency. You\u2019ll also need to make sure the child can get to medical and other appointments, court appearances and visits with their biological family. While you will not be paid for your service, you can expect some reimbursement from the state for part of your child\u2019s care. Do I Have What It Takes? A lot of emotions can be tied up in fostering, and it\u2019s important to take a realistic look at what\u2019s involved in the process. Here are some questions to consider as you start on the fostering journey: Can you support the goal of reuniting children with their biological parents? \u201cChildren love their parents,\u201d Chapin says. \u201cThis does not change when a child comes into foster care.\u201d Families hoping to eventually adopt may have conflicting feelings when a child returns home. What age levels and special needs are you capable of supporting? Chapin recommends being open-minded but realistic about this. \u201cPeople tend to think that older teens are always really difficult to foster, but often these are youth just looking for some stability so they can do \u2018typical\u2019 things that others their age are doing, like being on a sports team or hanging out with friends,\u201d she says. \u201cYounger children often require a much higher level of attention and care.\u201d Is your family on board? Fostering should be a family decision. \u201cTalk to your children about becoming a foster home, as it is their home, too, and fostering will have a significant impact on their daily lives,\u201d Chapin says. Overall, foster parents need to be able to be committed to the care and development of the children in their home. Fostering has its challenges at times, but they can be easier to handle with realistic expectations and a strong commitment to the children you serve.