You have made a decision to become foster parents. Congratulations! We need more people like you who are willing to make a difference in the life of a child. However, now you want to know what is the best way to prepare for your foster care home study? My first piece of advice, take a deep breath and know that the process is put in place for a reason and will only help you achieve the necessary skills needed to be a successful foster care parent. With that being said, please do not consider this article legal advice, rather this is written from my own personal research and experiences. Without further ado, let’s explore how we can answer your question: how can I prepare for my foster care home study?
I am sure if you are asking this question, you already know what a foster care home study is. But for those who are not quite sure, a foster care home study is essentially a process to ensure the potential family’s readiness to open their home to a foster child and provide the agency and/or court with the necessary documentation to prove that. The ultimate goal of the foster care system is parent reunification, and until that is possible, foster care homes provide a safe, secure, stable, nurturing place for a child to live. It is the job of the agency or social worker to make sure that the home study covers all aspects of ensuring the child a safe, secure, stable home to be placed in.
In order to figure out the best way to prepare for your foster care home study, we better discuss what is required of you in the first place.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, in 36 states and the District of Columbia, the foster parent must be at least 21 years of age. In six of the states, they must be 18 years of age. And in Alabama and Nebraska, the foster parent must be 19 years of age. Either single or married persons can become foster care parents. In only five states, you must be legally married. All household members must pass a background check. Most states require that the foster parents have sufficient family income in order to meet the family’s needs. You must be in good physical health and “be able to meet the demands of caring for children.” The prospective foster parents also must be “free of communicable diseases, illnesses or disability that would either endanger the child or interfere with the provision of care [of the child].” They must also be free of mental health conditions that may endanger or interfere with the care of the child. You also must possess a driver’s license, dependable transportation, and appropriate automobile insurance.
Almost every state requires some sort of training in order to be foster care parents. Depending on your state’s requirements, the required hours will defer. Some states also require annual training in order to keep your license “active.” Some states also require fire prevention, first aid, and CPR training. The training classes will provide information regarding the following: foster care license requirements, agency policies and procedures, roles of foster parents, what foster parents can and cannot do, child development, behavior management, discipline methods, attachment issues, separation issues, loss issues, cultural sensitivity, responsibilities of foster parents, home and child safety, and the impact fostering has on your family. These classes are what I find to be the most important part of the home study process. They may seem a little silly to you, or the fact that you need to take training to become foster parents, but they are essential. There are so many things that go into being foster care parents—things we aren’t always faced with—and having these education classes/training is incredibly helpful for when things we do not expect come up in our homes. I encourage you to go into them with open minds and open hearts.
“Foster homes must comply with all state and local zoning, building, and fire and safety codes,” according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. Be sure to check with your local agency to make sure you know what your specific requirements are. “The home must be kept clean, in good repair, and free from hazardous conditions.” You must also keep all medications, household cleaners, chemicals, tools, weapons, and ammunition in a place that is inaccessible to children. In most states firearms, must be kept in a locked cabinet, gun safe, or another type of container that children can’t get into and the ammunition must be kept separate and in a locked container that’s inaccessible to children. Most states also require working smoke detectors near all sleeping areas and working fire extinguishers. Carbon monoxide detectors are also required in some states.
Most states require that your home is “large enough to provide adequate space for living, eating, study, and play,” according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. That does not mean you need to have the largest house on the block, it simply means your house needs to provide enough space for each member to live “comfortably” and have space to call their own. However, some states do require a certain amount of square footage so be sure to check with your state’s requirement in this regard. Your home must have a working telephone, although a lot of agencies allow for a house cellphone to meet this standard. Your home must also have adequate heat, lighting, ventilation, a functioning bathroom, and working cold and hot water. Also, some states require that there be enough bedrooms for each child in your home. Also, some states require that children of the opposite sex do not share a bedroom. There are exceptions made in order to accommodate a sibling group. Be sure to know what your state’s requirements are regarding space in your home and the number of bedrooms. Also, if you are open to having an infant in your home, there is most likely a crib requirement as well. Make sure to know what the restrictions/requirements are in your state if you have pets in your home. Most states require that they be up to date on their vaccinations.
Your agency worker or social worker will be conducting a physical visit to your home which is why the above information is helpful to know so you can be prepared for when he/she does come to your home. Let me encourage you not to get too worried about the home visit. It may seem intimidating having someone come into your home and “judge” your home. That is not their intent. They simply want to make sure your home is safe and secure and will provide the necessary needs for a foster care child. Don’t worry about if it is clean enough or decorated well enough. Again, that is not what they are looking for. While cleaning up is a great idea, don’t let it stress you out.
In addition to the above requirements, part of your home study will include providing the following: financial information, medical information, employment verification, background check, autobiography, reference letters, and more. Again, this will vary depending on what your agency or social worker requires. Your social worker or agency worker will also conduct interviews with each potential foster parent as well as any children that are in your home. Some agencies conduct these individually as other agencies conduct them together. The interviews may also be part of your physical home study if they do it all in one trip. However, some agencies want to interview you before they do the physical home study. Either way, the interviews are a way to get to know each parent and child to be able to place the right child for your family in your home. You are going to know your family better than anyone else, so make sure you answer their questions truthfully and openly. Again, they are not there to judge you. If you know you cannot take in a newborn, be sure to discuss this with your worker. This is a crucial step to finding the best home for each child in foster care. These children need the least amount of disruption to their routines and moving from foster home to foster home simply because they were not a good fit for that home should be avoided as much as possible. Be open and honest is the best piece of advice. This will help you, your worker, and the children entering your home.
But now that you know what to expect, you still don’t know the answer to your question: what is the best way to prepare for your foster care home study? While I think knowing the knowledge above will help tremendously with preparing for your home study, you might also just need a little encouragement or a few tips on how to get through the foster care home study. With that being said, here are my top five tips for preparing for your foster care home study.
5. Be prepared. If you have read this article, you are a step ahead of the game. Knowing what your state’s requirements are and what your agency requirements are will help you prepare for your home study. You can’t prepare for something that you don’t know what to expect. Do research on what agency you are going to work with, or if you already know, make sure you get in contact with them to get a list of their requirements.
4. Get organized. Once you know the requirements of your agency, make a list. This can be done the old-fashioned way with a paper and pencil or on an Excel document. List out what you need to provide to the worker and check off as you submit the necessary documents to your worker. This way you will stay organized and be able to tackle the to-do list with ease.
3. Pick up. I know I mentioned that you don’t need to be a clean freak in order to become a foster parent, however, you may want to pick up the clutter around your house and if necessary, get rid of extra clutter to prepare your home for the additional children that will be residing in your home. This may also be a good time to have your children, if you have any, help you get rid of the toys they don’t play with or help you find toys that will be age appropriate for the children entering your home. Take this time to prepare your home to be a welcoming place for children, not just the worker that is coming to look at your house and meet with you.
2. Take a deep breath. Like I said, I know it can be a stressful time having your worker come into your home and classify whether or not it meets certain standards. Again, this is for your protection and the protection of the children entering your home. Also, keep in mind that your agency or social worker are people just like you and me. They don’t care if you have mom hair and you didn’t do last night’s dishes. They do care, however, that you meet the safety requirements listed above.
1. Don’t stress. I know it is easier said than done and I know one day when you look back on this and you will laugh and think, “What did I stress so much about?” But when you are going through the process, I know it is hard to always see that. Just keep in mind the big picture—you are changing the life of a child, even if they are only in your home for a short amount of time. Try not to worry about the paper-pushing process, the interviews, or the home visit and keep your eye on the prize: becoming a foster parent.
I know these tips are easier said than done and while you are going through the foster care home study process you may have worries, concerns, or stresses. But I hope this article helped answer your question: what is the best way to prepare for your foster care home study? I truly am excited for you as you embark on this adventure of becoming foster parents. I know we need more people willing to open up their hearts, minds, and homes to children in foster care. Good luck and I hope this article helped to relieve a little stress!
Jessica Heesch is an avid runner and fitness guru by choice, occasional writer by coincidence, loved by an amazing husband, and mother to an incredible boy, Jackson, by the gift of adoption.