Every child deserves a safe place to sleep at night, but unfortunately, that’s not always the reality. In Central Florida alone, more than 1,700 children need the support of foster families. That’s where fostering comes in to provide support.
At the most basic level, a foster home provides a safe place to stay. But fostering provides much more than simply a roof over a child’s head; fostering provides a support system. Foster parents offer a temporary anchor of stability during a scary and traumatic time.
According to a 2017 poll, more than one-quarter of all adults in America have considered fostering but far fewer take steps to actually get involved. If you’re in that questioning crowd or just curious to learn more about how fostering works, here are the five things you should know about fostering:
How do I become a foster parent?
The biggest hurdle for most prospective foster families to overcome is simply making that first call. No matter how many questions you have, the best way to find answers is by getting on the phone with an experienced child welfare professional. In Central Florida, call 1-866-90-CHILD.
If you decide to move forward in the process after your conversation with a child welfare professional, you’re required to attend an orientation and complete a 30-hour National Training and Development (NTDC) curriculum before becoming certified.
What are the requirements?
Any qualified adult can be licensed to foster no matter their marital status, sexual orientation, age, gender, home ownership status or income level. The requirements are straightforward: You must be 21 years of age or older, and you must pass a thorough home inspection, interview process and background check. Additionally, you must not be a current recipient of governmental financial assistance. Other than that, all you need is the willingness to welcome a child into your heart and home.
How long will a child remain in my care?
No two situations are exactly alike. Some children will be in
foster care for just one night before moving to stay with a relative or caregiver in the morning. Others may remain in foster care
for several years while their parents work on reunification plans.
Most cases will fall somewhere in the middle, and the child will
be in your care from a few weeks to several months. Ultimately, the goal for each child is permanency, whether that means returning to a stronger, more stable family or being adopted into another family.
What support is available to foster parents?
Fostering can be a big transition, which is why an experienced caregiver support team is ready to help you through the early stages of the process. The child’s case manager will also stay involved throughout the placement and, depending on where you live, local foster parent associations can also be an incredible network.
Because raising a child comes with extra expenses, there are resources available to help offset that cost. Foster parents receive a monthly stipend for childcare, and a specialty Medicaid plan covers all the child’s health and dental expenses. Additionally, teens and young adults in foster care are eligible for assistance in obtaining a driver’s license and car insurance as well as waived tuition at many Florida colleges.
Where is my help most needed?
Finding foster homes for teens is much more difficult than placing infants and young children, so people willing to take in high schoolers are always welcome with open arms. Kids don’t “outgrow” the need for a family when they turn 13. While you may not be there for your foster teen’s first words or first steps, you can be the first to help them with homework, drive them to a swim meet or cheer them on at graduation — and that’s every bit as meaningful.
If you’re in a position to do so, fostering siblings can be another great way to make a difference. All too often, kids in foster care have survived scary situations, but staying with their brothers and sisters softens the trauma of separation and helps them feel safe. Over a lifetime, keeping siblings together can have a huge impact on a child’s emotional health and development.
Whether or not you decide to take the first steps to become a foster parent, never forget how powerful an impact one family can have. By opening your heart and home to youth whose lives are in crisis, you are a stepping stone for building stronger families and futures for Florida’s children. For more information, visit EmbraceFamilies.org to connect with resources, sign up for classes and find out how fostering can fit your family.
Maggie Dante is vice president of child welfare operations for Embrace Families Community Based Care, the lead nonprofit agency overseeing foster care in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.