The road to foster care might seem long and intimidating, but here’s 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 — as little as a couple months and as long as a few years — 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’t have to look a certain way — you don’t have to be rich or married or even have children of your own. If you have considered fostering but aren’t sure you have what it takes, it’s a path worth exploring, as it can have a lasting impact on a child’s life.
The first step on your fostering journey is choosing a foster care agency to work with, and it’s important to find one you’re 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’s proximity to your home, and any costs related to licensing. Once you’ve 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’re seeking. You’ll be introduced to things like the child welfare system, how to set up your home, the child’s 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’s case worker and other providers, to make regular home visits based on your child’s needs.
“In 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,” says Brenda Chapin, vice president of program administration for The Villages, an Indiana-based foster care and adoption agency.
You’ll 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’s care.
Do I Have What It Takes?
A lot of emotions can be tied up in fostering, and it’s important to take a realistic look at what’s 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? “Children love their parents,” Chapin says. “This does not change when a child comes into foster care.” 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. “People 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 ‘typical’ things that others their age are doing, like being on a sports team or hanging out with friends,” she says. “Younger children often require a much higher level of attention and care.”
Is your family on board? Fostering should be a family decision. “Talk 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,” 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.