Looking to make a positive impact in a child’s life? Foster care can be a challenging yet extremely rewarding experience. Families wishing to explore this path can learn more about the licensing requirements, responsibilities of foster parents, financial help for families, and emotional supports.
Becoming a Foster Parent
“There are many factors to consider as the family moves through the licensing process,” explains Matt Ashcraft, director of licensing for Firefly Children & Family Alliance in Indianapolis. In Indiana, the minimum age to be eligible for a foster license is 21 years old; Firefly sets this age at 25. “We also require a unanimous household agreement to become a foster family, including minors of a reasonable age,” Ashcraft adds.
Other requirements can include:
- May be single, married or cohabitating, but not in process of a divorce
- Indiana residency and own or rent your home
- Stable income from a source that is not public assistance (although disability and social security benefits may qualify)
- Reliable, insured transportation
- Qualified background checks for all family members age 5 and older
- Sufficient bedroom space and individual beds for each child (children sharing a bedroom should be the same gender)
- Good physical and mental health of the caretakers
- A strong support system of friends and family willing to assist the applicants during and after licensing
Families applying for foster care licensure with Firefly generally complete the process in about 90 days, not to exceed one year. “Applicants will receive training that will introduce them to the child welfare system, foster care, trauma and trauma responses, policies and rules, understanding and managing behaviors, available supports, self-care, and other topics that will help prepare them for their first placement,” Ashcraft says. Safety training in first aid, CPR, and disease prevention are also offered.
Financial Help for Foster Families
Foster families receive a monthly reimbursement (following the month of service) for children placed in the home. The monthly reimbursement, called a “per diem,” is calculated by a daily, fixed rate based on the child’s age and needs. Additionally, routine and necessary medical care for the child is almost always covered by Medicaid.
Additional resources are available to help foster families obtain childcare, meals, and tuition-free enrichment programs, and more. Foster parents who work or attend school may apply for childcare assistance if the foster child is newborn to 12 years old. Children 5 and younger are eligible for WIC, and school-aged children may receive waived school fees and free lunches. A limited clothing allowance is available to children entering an out-of-home placement for the first time.
“Many volunteer groups, churches and service organizations offer occasional support to foster families such as meals, transportation, or even lawn care and leaf clean-up,” Ashcraft adds. “Groups routinely offer gifts of athletic event tickets, new shoes and coats.” Families can also seek free or reduced cost entry to entertainment, recreation, amusement parks, museums, tours, parks and lodging.
Emotional Support and Responsibilities
Foster organizations often offer specialized support and training for foster families. “Even a well-behaved, quiet child who has experienced trauma can be masking their feelings of hopelessness and mourning,” Ashcraft says.
For all Indiana foster families, a family case manager is assigned by the Department of Child Services. This person will oversee the case for the entire biological family with the ultimate goal of the child achieving permanency through reunification with family or through adoption.
“The child welfare system is complex and can be overwhelming,” Ashcraft says. This is why, for instance, Firefly assigns an additional foster care case manager to help explain all those complexities, acting as a bridge between the state and the foster family, and to address the child’s individual needs. Firefly also offers 24 hour assistance for emergency situations that may occur after normal business hours.
A foster parent’s role is so much more than providing a safe, understanding and caring environment for a child while including them in their normal family experience. Many children in care require additional medical services, therapy, family visitation, case management, educational supports and more. Foster parents must meet annual and continuing requirements to maintain their license, such as training hours, safety certification, home inspections, and rule compliance.
Relationships with the Birth Family
Most children in foster care will have some type of planned visitation with their parents and/or family members. “At Firefly Children and Family Alliance, we encourage this and assist in determining what the most appropriate level of contact is in individual cases,” Ashcraft says.
Stronger relationships between foster parents and the child’s biological parents can help alleviate the child’s loss and improve outcomes for all involved. Contact can vary from simple notes, emails or phone calls to in-person meetings. The level of contact is determined case by case, depending on what’s most appropriate and comfortable for both the foster family and the child’s family.
Foster care is not just a system — it’s a community, a support network, and a lifeline for children in need. By opening our hearts and homes to these resilient young souls, we have the power to make a lasting impact on their lives and shape a brighter future for our community.