What is the first step in becoming a foster parent?
The first step is to find an agency to complete your licensing process. Every county has a local Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS) agency, and many counties have private agencies contracted with the State of Michigan to provide foster care services to families. A complete list of agencies providing foster care services can be found at: www.fcnp.org When you first contact an agency, be sure to ask them plenty of questions – any question you have is important enough to be answered. You may want to ask:
- How long will the foster care licensing process take?
- What types of children are typically placed in foster homes though this agency?
- What services are provided to me once my license is opened and a child or children are placed in my home?
- When and where are the orientation and foster parent training classes held?
Feel free to call several agencies and ask them the same kinds of questions before making a final decision. Be sure you feel comfortable with the agency you choose; you will be working closely with them for a long time during the process, and will be sharing private and personal information. They will also become your strongest advocate in this process.
What’s the difference between foster care and adoption?
Foster care differs from adoption in a few ways. A foster parent assumes care and responsibility for the foster child, but the State maintains all legal guardianship of the child. Adoption transfers legal responsibility and care over to the adopting parents. A foster parent’s primary role is to help in efforts to reunite the child with their birth family. This may include visits between the child and birth parents (when appropriate), taking a child to counseling (if needed), and working closely with the foster care worker. Children may stay in the foster home for several days, weeks or months – perhaps even a year or longer – while birth parents are working to resolve the issues that brought the children into care in the first place. Sometimes, a child is unable to return home; it is then that the court terminates parental rights and the child becomes available for adoption. Adoptive parents become the child’s legal parent. Their lifelong commitment and responsibility are no less important than if the child was born to them.
What types of needs do foster children have?
It is important to remember that children in foster care have the same needs as children who live in a stable family environment. They are placed in foster care based on the actions or inactions of the adults, not because of something that they did wrong or because of bad behavior. However, it is important to realize that children in foster care have had traumatic past experiences that may include physical, sexual, or emotional abuse and/or neglect. Others may have been drug and/or alcohol exposed. Most children in foster care have some level of special emotional, cognitive, learning, physical, health or developmental need based on these traumatic experiences. All of these children have experienced the grief and loss of having been separated from their families. Your agency will ask you about the types of children for whom you are willing to care. The agency’s final recommendation will be based on your preferences and the agency’s assessment of your skills and abilities. Ongoing training opportunities are offered to foster parents to increase the knowledge and skills needed to meet the needs of the children placed in their home.
Should I become a foster parent so I can adopt a child?
Because foster care is considered to be a temporary placement, not every child that comes into your home will be eligible for adoption. A foster parent is expected to work with the agency and birth parents, in the hopes that the family will be reunited. A foster parent must be objective, and must be able to assist a child if and when it comes time for that child to leave the foster home. Sometimes, however, children are unable to return home. If parental rights are terminated, relatives and foster parents are given consideration for adoption.
What does “foster-to-adopt” mean? What about “dual licensing”?
“Foster-to-adopt” means families become foster parents with the hope and intent that they will adopt a foster child that comes into their home. In Michigan, we call this same process “dual licensing.” Families complete the foster care licensing requirements and the adoption requirements at the same time. It saves time and reduces duplicate paperwork. It is also beneficial to children because they won’t move as often.
Do I have to be married to be a foster parent?
You don’t have to be married to adopt or foster a child or children. Many children will thrive in a single parent home. Only one parent of a non married couple can legally adopt a child in Michigan.
Do I have to own my own home?
You don’t have to own your own home to adopt or foster a child. A rented house or apartment is fine, as long as there is adequate bedroom space per child. The home must be free from health and fire hazards, and must have a safe play area for children.
Do I need to be a stay-at-home parent to be a foster parent?
You do not need to give up your job and stay home full time in order to foster children. Foster parents are eligible for day care payments for the time that they are working or continuing their education.
Do I need to make a lot of money?
You do not have to be rich to adopt or be a foster parent. Even if you receive some type of financial assistance, you are still eligible to adopt or provide foster care as long as you have adequate financial resources to provide for your family and the additional children you with to bring into your home.
What is a home study?
The home study (also called a family assessment) is done by a social worker at a licensed child placing agency, and typically takes at least six months to complete. The home study consists of a series of meetings between the family and the licensing worker, with at least one meeting occurring in the family’s home. It provides an educational opportunity for the family to learn more and seriously consider their motivations and expectations for foster care. It also gives the licensing worker a chance to get to know the family. The home study generally includes the following:
- Personal History – A complete history and evaluation of your current family life and past experiences – and how they will affect your capacity to parent children in foster care – is written. This helps the licensing worker decide how a child will fit into your family, and determine what type of child might do best in your home. Children living in the home are also interviewed (depending on their age and level of understanding) about how they feel and what being a foster family means to them. Any other adult in the home (parents, aunts, cousins, live-together partners), will also be interviewed.
- Health Statements – Everyone in your home will need to provide a medical history and a recent physical (within one year). A medical condition that is under control (high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.) usually will not prevent a person from being approved to provide foster care.
- Criminal Background Check- All adults living in the home will need to complete a State Police check and Protective Service clearance. Some counties may also require local police clearances, as well. Foster parents will also need to provide fingerprints.
- Income Statement – You will be asked to provide proof of your income, such as a copy of an income tax form, a paycheck stub, or a W-2 form. Bank statements and insurance policies may also be requested.
- Personal References- You will be asked to provide the names, addresses, and phone numbers of three unrelated individuals who can share their knowledge about your experience with children, the stability of your marriage and/or household, and your motivation to provide foster care.
- Training – You will need to complete a minimum of 12 hours of Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education (PRIDE) training.
What happens once my license is opened? Is there any guarantee that children will be placed in my home? How long will it take for a child to be placed in my home?
There are no guarantees that a child will be placed into your home. Becoming a licensed foster home merely makes the placement of a child possible. Having a child placed is dependent on the “types” of children needing foster care, the availability of homes in the community, and on the placement specifications for each foster home. The timeframe for placement of a child in a newly licensed home varies widely and is dependent on many factors. Your agency will contact you about any possible placement of a child or children in your home. You will have the opportunity to discuss the known needs of the child with the agency prior to the child’s placement in your home and to decide whether you are willing and able to meet their needs. Foster parents are not required to take any child into their home at any time.
Is there some kind of financial assistance available if I choose to foster a child?
There is financial assistance available for those who provide foster care. Foster care payments are not meant to cover all expenses incurred in raising a child; rather, these payments are meant to help offset some of the cost. Foster parents are given a modest initial and semiannual clothing allowance as well as a holiday allowance for youth placed in the home. The amount paid is dependent on the needs of the child, not the family. The amount is set by the State agency responsible for the child’s care. Children in foster care are also eligible for dental, medical and vision coverage through Medicaid, daycare subsidies, free school meals, WIC, high school graduation and prom expenses and tuition assistance for older youth. Eligibility for these and many other supportive services for families caring for youth in foster care are not based on the foster parents’ income.