May is National Foster Care Month and you may now be asking, “How do I become a foster parent?”. Perhaps it’s a question that’s been in the back of your mind (and heart) for years.
Today, let’s get practical and walk through the steps required to obtain your foster care license.
The process for becoming a licensed foster parent varies from state-to-state, but the basics remain the same. In every state, you must be at least 21 years old, and the main qualification: be able to meet the physical, emotional and developmental needs of a child.
1. Find an agency and the process in your state
Your first step is to contact a licensing agency in your state. One place you could look for agencies in your state is the Child Welfare Information Gateway. You may also reach out to other foster families in your community or do a simple web search: “Become a foster parent in [Your State Name]”.
It’s important to note that licensing can also differ county-by-county. So finding other foster families in your area who understand the process in your county can be a great first step in answering any questions you may have. And consider using social media! Foster parent Facebook groups can also be helpful in answering your initial questions.
After you’ve done your research, give the agency a call or send them an email. Your first conversation with the agency will likely include exchanging basic information and sharing a bit about your interest in becoming a foster parent. If there are multiple agencies in your area, consider contacting more than one agency to find the best fit for you.
2. Your first meeting
Next, your agency might ask you to attend an informational meeting for a large group. Alternatively, they might set up an initial meeting between you and a social worker. During your initial meeting, you’ll likely receive information about your state’s laws and requirements, along with an application to start the foster care licensing process.
According to the Missouri Department of Social Services, to foster a child in Missouri you must meet the following requirements:
- Be at least 21 years of age
- Complete a child abuse/neglect check and criminal record check including fingerprints
- Be in good health, both physically and mentally
- Have a stable income
- Be willing to participate in and complete a free training and assessment process
- Be part of a professional team willing to voice perspectives and concerns
- Be willing to partner with the child’s family
3. The “Get to Know You” process
Both you and the caseworker assigned to you want the same thing: what’s best for the child. Together, you’ll get to know one another and determine whether foster care is the right thing for you or your family and which children you might best be able to serve. There will likely be a series of home visits, background checks, health screenings, financial discussions, requests for references and a home safety check. You may need to make some changes to your home to ensure it’s as safe as possible for all members of your family.
4. Training and Orientation
The amount and form of training needed will vary state-to-state, but you can expect around 20-50 hours of formal training. For example, the state of Texas requires all potential foster and adoptive parents to go through their PRIDE course, which covers topics like: “child attachment issues, loss and grief, discipline, behavior intervention, the effects of abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, working with the child welfare system, and effects of fostering and adopting on the family.” You may also need to receive CPR and first aid training.
Finally, after you’ve completed all the requirements, the licensing caseworker will submit appropriate forms for your licensure. They’ll also make recommendation for which children (considering age, gender, trauma, behavioral, medical and sibling situations) might be the best fit for your family. On average, from the initial inquiry to becoming licensed to accept placement, the licensure process takes 3-6 months, but it could take longer.
Remember this experience looks different for everyone and there is no such thing as a perfect foster parent or family. These steps do not address the many emotional, mental and spiritual questions, conversations and prayers that should be part of that question and decision for you and your family.