Taking The First Step
The first thing you need to start foster parenting is simply a willingness to become a foster parent. Once you have that interest or desire to become a foster parent and choose to act on it, everything else will fall into place from there. Making that decision can be the hardest step, but it is the most important step on this journey.
Choosing Where To Foster
The next step to start fostering is to call either the county or a private foster care agency. The choice is up to you and I believe there are benefits of both. It may also depend on the area you live in as to what options are available to you. You will want to make sure that whatever agency you choose is a good fit for your family and meets your needs. Feel free to ask them questions before you commit and talk to others in your community to hear their experiences. Find out what areas or counties they serve, what ages and characteristics of children they care for, average number of calls they receive, typical caseload of the caseworkers, average response time to return phone calls, and what support they provide to their foster families. If you are also considering adoption from foster care, find out if they offer adoption home studies at the same time as the foster care licensing.
Once you have chosen where you will foster, you will need to get signed up for the foster parent training classes. These classes are typically offered by the county or agency free of charge. They should also provide you with a list of everything else you will need to do before you can be licensed as a foster parent. This list typically includes completing an application with references, fingerprinting and background checks, financial disclosure forms, medical release form from your physician, fire inspection of your home, and a home study. This sounds like a lot, but most of these forms are simple to complete.
The background checks can take a long time to come back so I suggest completing those first. Check with your agency because they may request you use a specific location for fingerprinting and background checks. For the fire inspection, the local fire department will usually come out at an appointed time and do a courtesy walk through of your home to check for smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, and to ensure there are no obvious safety hazards.
Along with preparing the home for the home study, you should have an appropriate bed for each child you are anticipating. Before purchasing any beds, check with your agency regarding rules about the beds. Depending on your state or agency, there may be policies about the manufacture date of the crib/beds, types of beds permitted, what age a child needs a crib, and what age children can use bunk beds, etc. If expecting younger children, baby proofing the house is a good idea but not always required prior to licensing.
Additional Things That Are Beneficial
Once licensed, you can now start fostering but there are some additional things that are not needed but certainly beneficial. The biggest thing that is helpful to have is support. Support from your immediate and extended families, as well as from your friends and neighbors, will be a huge blessing. You can foster on your own, but having that support makes the journey easier.
There isn’t much else you really need before you start fostering. With all the unknowns of foster care, it is difficult to buy clothing and specific items for the children in advance. You may consider buying some things only if you are certain you will need them based on the ages of the children you are considering. For any age, it’s nice to have extra blankets, stuffed animals, bubble bath, bath toys, toothbrushes, and books available for bedtime. Everything else you may need, such as clothes, car seats, diapers, formula, etc., you can make a trip to the store as soon as possible after the children arrive.
That’s everything you need to start foster parenting. Throw in some patience, flexibility, and a whole lot of love, and you are good to go on this foster care journey.