Introduction to Foster Care
Welcome to the journey into understanding foster care, a system that offers a safe haven for children unable to live with their birth parents due to varying circumstances. These circumstances may encompass neglect, abuse, or other familial crises. In some situations, parents voluntarily place their children in foster care, recognizing their current inability to provide a stable environment.
At its core, the foster care system embodies the belief that every child deserves a safe, nurturing environment to grow. This system aims to offer these children a temporary home with the love, care, and support they need during challenging times.
The foster care system seeks to act as a supportive bridge, not severing the bond between the child and their birth family but fostering it where possible. The primary goal is family reunification.
This introduction to foster care is your first step towards appreciating the critical role this system plays
in protecting and nurturing vulnerable children.
The History of Foster Care
- Mid-20th Century
- Annually since 1988
- Late 20th to Early 21st Century
- 21st Century
This law allowed the placement of poor children into indentured service, essentially creating the earliest form of foster care.
Social reformer Charles Loring Brace initiated this movement to move children from overcrowded cities in the East to foster homes in the West.
Massachusetts passed a law ending the practice of placing children into indentured service and instead favored supervised foster homes.
The first federal law to provide federal funds directly for foster care was passed.
A change in attitudes led to a move from institutional orphanages to home-based foster care.
This act sought to keep families together by providing services and creating a review system to monitor the welfare of children in foster care.
This act aimed to prevent children from entering foster care by providing families with support services. It also aimed to improve the quality of foster care.
First established by President Reagan, this annual celebration in May seeks to raise awareness of children in foster care and honor foster parents.
Efforts increased to place children with relatives or close family friends, known as “kinship care,” as an alternative to traditional foster care settings.
The contemporary foster care system continues to evolve, focusing on the best interest of the child, with goals of family reunification, adoption, or preparing older youths for independence.
Please note that exact dates may vary based on different sources, and this timeline provides a general historical overview rather than an exhaustive list of every development in the history of foster care.
Who Are Foster Children?
Foster children are diverse in age, background, and life experiences. They find themselves in the foster care system due to various circumstances beyond their control, such as neglect, abuse, or parental incapacity. All these children share one thing – the need for safety, support, and care.
The Process of Becoming a Foster Parent
The first step to becoming a foster parent is to ensure you meet the eligibility criteria. These criteria may vary slightly depending on the state or agency, but generally, potential foster parents must be at least 21 years old, demonstrate financial stability, and pass a health examination. If you’re in a relationship, the stability and longevity of that relationship may be considered. Additionally, your home must have enough bedroom space for a foster child.
It’s important to note that you don’t need to be married or own a home to foster. Single individuals can become foster parents, and renters are also eligible as long as the home environment is stable and safe. Also, prior parenting experience isn’t a requirement, but patience, understanding, and a desire to provide care and support to a child in need are essential qualities of a successful foster parent.
The application process is an in-depth procedure that involves filling out an application form, providing personal references, and authorizing background checks. The background check will include criminal history and child abuse registry checks for all adult members of the household.
Agencies are looking for candidates who can provide a safe, stable, and nurturing environment for foster children. During this phase, you’ll need to provide various documents, such as proof of income, medical records, and more. The application process can take several weeks to several months, so patience is essential during this step.
Once your application has been accepted, you’ll move on to the pre-service training phase. This training is designed to prepare prospective foster parents for the challenges they may face. It includes information on child development, trauma, behavior management, the child welfare system, and the legal rights and responsibilities of foster parents.
Training can be a mix of online and in-person sessions, and you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss scenarios. It’s also an excellent opportunity to meet other potential foster parents. Upon completion of your training, you’ll be equipped with the basic knowledge needed to care for children who may have experienced trauma or neglect.
It takes 20 hours to become licensed as a therapeutic foster home and 10 hours for a traditional foster home in the state of Indiana. All training is at no cost to participants with the cost of training covered by the agency.
A home study is a comprehensive review conducted to ensure that your home is a safe and suitable environment for a foster child. It involves home visits, safety inspections, and interviews with all family members. The licensing specialist conducting the home study will be looking at the physical environment as well as the social and emotional environment of the home.
The home study is not just about evaluating your home—it’s also a chance for the family to learn more about the fostering process and to decide on the type of child they would best be able to support (considering factors like age, gender, and any special needs). Though it may feel intrusive, remember that the goal is to ensure the best match between foster families and children.
After completing the above steps satisfactorily, Indiana Department of Child Services will make a decision. If approved, you’ll be officially licensed as a foster parent and can start accepting placements. If the agency decides not to approve your application, they will provide reasons for this decision, and in some cases, you may be able to apply again in the future.
Following approval, the matching process begins. The agency will work closely with you to find a child whose needs align with your skills and capabilities. Remember, the primary goal of foster care is to provide children in need with a safe, secure, and loving environment. It can be a rewarding, albeit challenging journey, but know that you’re making a significant difference in a child’s life.
Questions You May Have
While both involve taking care of a child who’s not your biological offspring, they differ in permanency and legal rights. Adoption is a permanent legal arrangement where you fully assume the parental rights for a child. Foster care, on the other hand, is typically a temporary arrangement with the primary goal being reunification with the birth family, if possible.
Foster children don’t necessarily need their own room. They can often share a room with another child of the same gender and appropriate age, but they do need their own bed. The specific rules can vary by state and local regulations.
Yes, having pets does not disqualify you from becoming a foster parent. However, all pets should be safe and child-friendly. You might need to provide veterinary records to demonstrate that your pets are in good health and up-to-date with vaccinations.
Foster children, particularly those who have experienced trauma, might exhibit a range of behavioral challenges. These can include anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, difficulty in school, or trouble sleeping. Foster parent training will equip you with strategies to handle these behaviors and provide appropriate support.
If challenges arise that make it difficult for a placement to continue, the foster care agency will work with the foster family to find a solution. This could include additional support or training, therapy, or, in some cases, finding a new placement for the child.
In the United States, the IRS allows foster parents to claim foster children as dependents, provided they were in your care for over half the year. The stipend received for fostering is non-taxable. As always, consult a tax professional to understand how these rules apply to you.
Depending on the specifics of the child’s case and the legal status of the parents, you may need to involve them in decision-making, particularly for significant decisions like medical procedures. The agency caseworker can provide guidance on when and how to involve birth parents.
Yes, you can usually take your foster child on vacation. You may need to inform the agency and possibly get permission, particularly for out-of-state or international travel. It’s also crucial to ensure all the child’s medical and identification needs are covered for the trip.
Helping a child transition involves maintaining routines, offering reassurance, and encouraging open communication about their feelings. It’s also important to speak positively about the new home or the birth family to help the child adjust and feel secure about the change.