As we were going through the process of becoming foster parents for my brothers to stay with us, things changed in their case where they could stay with us without us completing the process. Since I want to give you a first hand account of what it's like to take classes to become a foster parent and what things you will encounter, I went on a search for someone with experience. Thankfully Amber, who is a foster parent and social worker, was willing to give us her account of what it's like to become a foster parent.
The decision to become a foster parent is huge. It is a decision to open your home and your life to children and their families that are experiencing a crisis. It is a decision to change your everyday, predictable life into a life where you could receive a phone call at any time of day or night to care for a child. It is an exciting yet overwhelming decision! Even the process to become a foster parent can seem overwhelming but if you take it step by step it seems less scary and can be a very insightful and learning time.
My husband and I started the process of becoming foster parents about a year and a half ago and have been a licensed foster home for a year. We have two biological children and another one on the way – and have had the pleasure of fostering two baby boys this past year.
The first thing all prospective foster parents have to do is decide what agency you will work through. Each state has their own government child welfare agency but they also have non-profit agencies that work with them and employ their own foster parents. A quick internet search can let you know about your state’s agency and other non-profits that train and license foster homes. Once you know your options call and talk to each option and get to know their programs – some may not be a good fit for you and you will find the one you are most comfortable working with.
We decided to go through Tennessess’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) directly instead of through a contract non-profit agency. It has been a great fit for us and we feel we have been adequately trained and prepared to be foster parents. This is our experience of becoming foster parents. Of course, each state will have different requirements you must fulfill to be approved and licensed.
Our first step to becoming foster parents was to attend Parents As Tender Healers (PATH) training. This is the pre-approval training that all Tennessee foster and kinship parents have to attend. PATH consisted of a total of 23 hours of training over the course of 7 weeks. Each week covered a different topic and included: Orientation, Understanding the Child Welfare System, Impact of Trauma, Effective Discipline, Cultural Awareness & Expert Panel, CPR/First Aid, and Medication Administration.
PATH classes, or pre-approval classes, are a great chance to figure out if being a foster parent is a good fit for you, your family and your life. You will gain insight on what it is like to parent children who are coming from difficult situations, who may be culturally or racially different from yourself and who may be hostile towards being in your home. In our experience, they give you “worst case” scenarios to think through and process. But it is helpful to be prepared for very hard situations so that you have thought about the hard stuff before it actually happens. And if your foster children do not have any of the really hard things to work through – great! – at least you were prepared.
Another thing that pre-approval training will help you prepare for is working with birth families. The goal of foster care is to provide temporary care for children as their parents work towards creating a safe, stable environment for their children to return to. Of course, this is not always possible but it is usually the goal.
Pre-approval training can also give you a glimpse into what it will be like working with “the system.” Child welfare agencies are run by the government and that means bureaucracy. Even if you are being approved through a foster care agency they are still contracted by the state child welfare agency and have to follow their rules. You can’t get a true sense of how “the system” works until you experience it firsthand but it helps to be introduced to the different aspects.
These classes may also show you that being a foster parent is not the right fit for you. There were several people in our PATH classes that did not complete the training for various reasons. Some realized that it was a bigger time commitment that they are able to make, others who only wanted to adopt a baby realized a private adoption agency fit their needs better, or they realized that they could not or were not willing to work with birth families in order for children to return home.
At the end of our PATH training we had an interview with the child welfare worker who conducted the training to complete the pre-approval training. This interview consisted of questions about why we wanted to be foster parents, what we thought our strengths and weaknesses were and any concerns the child welfare worker had. For us, this was a relaxed and informal interview that helped us pinpoint some areas that we needed to discuss as a couple before finalizing the process.
Towards the end of our PATH training we were assigned a case worker from DCS who would be our point of contact.This is the person that would process our paperwork and complete the home study process. After approval, our case worker would also do periodic home checks and be our main point of contact if we ever had any questions or concerns.
Then there is a lot of paperwork. You have to submit fingerprints for background checks, copies of birth certificates, social security cards, and marriage certificate,show that you are able to financially support your current household without government assistance, submit proof of driver license, car insurance, and that you are healthy enough to care for children, pictures of your family and any pets you may own, among other things. It took us a few weeks to get all of the paperwork together and submitted to our case worker and then she visited our home to complete the home study.
We were nervous about the home study process but it was not as bad as we imagined. Since we have two young, biological children our home was mostly “kid-proof” and there were only a few things we had to do to prepare. Some things were obvious such as make sure blind cords are out of children’s reach and make sure you have room to house children. Other things were more specific such as all medication has to be locked up. We achieved this by purchasing a tackle box and lock – easy.
The home study also included an interview with the case worker about what kind of “placements” we would be willing to take. You have to think through how many children at a time can you take care of? Are you able and willing to care for children who have been severely abused, sexually abused? What age range of children are you willing and able to care for? Are you willing and able to care for children of both genders, all races?
Now that you have completed all pre-approval training, interviews, submitted paperwork and the home study – you get to wait. Yes, it can be excruciating! The wheels of bureaucracy turn and then you get the official letter in the mail letting you know you are officially approved and licensed to be a foster parent.
Then you get to wait again for your first phone call saying a child or children need a home and are you willing and able to take care of them. And you will probably say, “Yes, of course!”
-Amber and her husband, live in Tennessee and are licensed foster parents through the TN Department of Children’s Services. They have fostered 2 baby boys and are awaiting their next phone call. Amber is also a social worker who has previously worked in child welfare.