That timeless parenting phrase — “it takes a village” — is never more applicable than when discussing foster care.
Indiana Department of Child Services defines foster care as “providing a safe, nurturing, stable and temporary environment for children who can no longer remain in their own homes due to the risk of abuse or neglect. This care is given with the intention of helping children safely reunify with their families.”
If you have ever considered taking on the important role of fostering, then read on to learn where to begin.
Are We Ready?
As you can expect, the role of foster parent takes a great amount of mental and emotional strength, both of which should be considered before beginning the licensing process.
“Becoming a foster parent is a calling in one’s life,” says Kristi Cundiff, founder and CEO of Indiana Foster & Adoptive Parents Resources & Advocacy, a non-profit that works passionately with foster and adoptive families throughout Indiana. “Not everyone is mentally and emotionally prepared to be called to work with children who come from hard places. However, many amazing people have made the decision to do so, and have opened their heart and home to Indiana’s most vulnerable children.”
As you prepare to make this decision, there are a few life situations to keep in mind before beginning the process. If you are planning for a big life change, such as moving or getting a new job, you may want to wait until things are settled before getting started.
While it’s important to evaluate your personal mental and emotional status, also consider the same of any children you already have in your family.
If you’re concerned about the emotional aspect of foster parenting, keep in mind that this will also be addressed in the extensive training, home studies and ongoing support available throughout the process.
Where Do We Start?
When you are ready to begin the course to become a foster parent, your first step is to visit your county’s job and family services (or children’s services) website. Each county has its own process and requirements, and more details are available for you on the site. You can foster children in a county different from where you live, but you’ll want to be sure to check out that county’s procedures.
Due to the length of processing with the state’s Department of Child Services, Cundiff recommends working with a Licensed Planning Agency (LCPA), which can walk you through every step of becoming licensed.
Once you’ve chosen an agency, or decided to work directly with the state, you can expect to complete a licensing packet issued by your county, and 10 hours of training that will cover topics such as effective discipline, policies and how to care for children who have been through trying situations. The home study and interview process then begins, as well as criminal and background checks. Once you become a licensed foster parent, you will be required to take 15 hours of in-service training each year to maintain your license.
What Else Should We Know?
While becoming a foster parent is a lengthy and involved process, it is necessary to ensure it is right for both the potential parents and children.
“Foster parenting is one of the hardest but most rewarding experiences a person will have,” says Cundiff, who is a foster and adoptive parent herself. “I always say to expect the unexpected. You need to have the mindset that you are a ‘temporary parent’ to a child who needs to feel loved, have structure, routine and feel safe.”
If you’ve ever considered becoming a foster parent, remember that you do not have to be married, have your own children, or be wealthy. You only need to have a desire to help the children placed in your care and a passion for making a difference.
“One person cannot change the world, but that one person can change the world of a child,” Cundiff says.