First of all, congratulations on taking the first step in learning more about Arkansas foster care. Becoming a foster parent, no matter where you live, can be overwhelming, and you may not be quite sure where to start. You have come to the right place. Before I get too far into the details of Arkansas foster care, I want to advise you that this article is written from my own personal research and experiences and thus, should not be considered legal advice. If you are in need of legal advice, please reach out to your local foster care agency, attorney, or social services department for further guidance. With that being said, Christopher Robin once said, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Remember that as you embark on the journey of becoming a foster care parent. It will change the world of a child forever, and I assume it will also change yours.
Let’s start with the basics. What is foster care? Foster care is essentially temporary living for children who have been removed from their biological family. There are several different reasons for them being removed, however, the main goal of foster care is parent reunification. Meaning, foster care is meant to be a temporary living situation while the foster care system figures out how to reunify the parents and children together. However, there are certain circumstances where parent reunification is not in the best interest of the child and that child will become available for foster care adoption. Now, let’s explore Arkansas foster care.
Types of Foster Care Homes:
There are a few different types of foster care homes in Arkansas: provisional foster homes, relative foster homes, and regular foster homes. A provisional foster allows a quick placement for the child with a relative, whom the child already has a relationship with. Once the relative’s home has met at all the provisions of a provisional foster care license, they will work with the child-placing agency to become a regular foster home. Similarly, the relative foster homes are where an adult relative is “recruited” to provide care for the child who is related to them by blood or by marriage. Again, these homes must meet all of the foster home requirements. Relative foster homes may choose to be classified only as a relative foster home, which means they will only ever have placement of a child that is related to them. In the alternative, they may also choose to be a regular foster care home and will be available to have placement with a non-relative child. Regular foster parent homes simply mean they will be having placement of children that are not related to them in any fashion.
Now that we know a little bit about the types of foster care homes, what does it take to become an Arkansas foster care parent? The process for becoming a foster home in Arkansas includes a foster home assessment. The purpose of the foster home assessment is to educate the potential foster parents, assess their character, qualifications, and suitability to become a foster home, and to meet the standards of approval. The agency conducting the home assessment will be evaluating the family to ensure they are capable of providing care for the child placed in their home, their ability to accept and encourage the child’s relationship with their birth family, their ability to relate to the child in helpful ways, and their ability to work as part of a team in the best interest of the child, including working with the child, the agency and the child’s biological family. It is extremely important that you are completely honest when working with your foster care agency. You are going to know your family and your family’s limits better than anyone else. This is critical information for your agency to know. You do not want to have a child placed with you that is not a good fit for your family, simply because you did not tell your workers that a child younger than the age of 5 would not be a good fit for your family. Do not feel pressured to take on a situation you know your family could not handle. While the ultimate goal of foster care is parent reunification, you want to limit the number of foster homes a child enters. This is in the best interest of the child and is really important for the child’s transitions.
There is no magic answer to who can be an Arkansas foster care parent. If you feel it in your heart that you want to become a foster parent and change the life of a child, go for it. However, there are certain requirements you, your family, and your home must meet before you can become a certified foster care parent/home.
- The minimum age is 21 years of age. For anyone over the age of 65, you may be required to provide alternative compliance.
- Two-parent homes or single-parent homes may apply to become Arkansas foster care parents.
- All household members must pass a medical exam, which includes a doctor’s recommendation. In order to keep your license up to date, everyone must also repeat the health exam every year. All family members over the age of 12 must receive a Mantoux skin test for tuberculosis. Everyone must repeat the test yearly to keep your license up to date. If someone has a positive skin test, they must provide documentation every year certifying that they are free from communicable tuberculosis.
- Physical disability for all family members will be evaluated and determined the effect of the family, if any.
- You will have to provide evidence of stable income sufficient to meet the needs of your family along with a stable employment history.
- For employment outside of the home, consideration will be given as to the age and characteristics of the child that they place in your home. You will also need to provide childcare plans for the child if needed.
- Your home must be free of any hazardous or dangerous conditions.
- All pools or bodies of water must be protected by a locked gate.
- All staircases must also be gated or have a door that is able to close and lock.
- Water must be provided by the public water system or approved by the Department of Health.
- The physical home shall have at least two exterior doors to provide safe exits.
- The physical home must provide for 50 square feet of sleeping space per foster child.
- Children of the opposite sex must have their own separate bedrooms if either child is 4 years or older.
- The children placed in your home should not be exposed to second-hand smoke. That is, there should be no smoking in the house.
- Opening windows, large enough that the child can exit through it in case of an emergency.
- All firearms must be kept in a secure, locked fashion. Any ammunition must also be kept in a separate locked, secure fashion.
- No stacking of beds.
- Must have a working landline telephone.
- Must be able to provide and maintain a safe mode of transportation. Along with proof of insurance, a valid vehicle safety record.
- Must have a valid driver’s license.
- Background checks are required that include the following; a child maltreatment central registry check for each member of your household age 10 and older. This will include any state where any member had worked, if different than where you currently reside. This will also include any state where any member had lived or worker for the preceding six years. This registry check will be repeated every two years. FBI fingerprinting criminal background checks for anyone in the household over the age of 16. An Arkansas state police criminal background check will be required for everyone ages 14 and older. This check is repeated every five years.
- Provide a minimum of three reference letters. These are character references that could speak towards your child caring experiences and practices.
- Training: All prospective foster parents shall complete 30 hours of pre-service training. In addition to the training, foster parents shall have current CPR and first aid training. Each foster family must then participate in a minimum of 15 hours of approved training every year.
Additional Requirements/Things to Know:
- Your home shall not be licensed as a childcare facility.
- A home may have up to eight children in their home. This can consist of up to five unrelated children. A foster home may not have more than two children under the age of 2 and no more than three children under the age of 6.
- There cannot be any roomers or boarders in the home.
- Families that move to Arkansas from another state where they have been approved as a foster family must also complete the entire approval procedure for Arkansas.
- You may not use corporal punishment on any foster care children placed in your home.
- All potential foster parents must recognize the religious beliefs of any foster children placed in your home and support them in exercising their religious beliefs.
Arkansas foster care parents receive a monthly board payment. These payments include payment for room, board, clothing, school supplies, personal supplies and a small allowance for the child, if appropriate. The funds provided are to be completely used for the child. The child’s medical, dental, and hospitalization fees are covered under Medicaid or other state funds.
Birth through 5 years
Board and Care $345.00
Personal Needs $15.00
6 through 11 years
Board and Care $355.00
School and Personal Needs
(Personal supplies; allowance) $25.00
12 through 14 years
Board and Care $365.00
School and Personal Needs
(Personal supplies; allowance) $30.00
15 through 21 years
Board and Care $375.00
School and Personal Needs $35.00
*Information provided by Arkansas DHS/Division of Children and Family Services/Foster Family Handbook*
Now that you have a broad idea of what Arkansas foster care looks like, where do you start? I suggest you start by contacting your local adoption agency, children’s hospital, or social services office to discuss foster care options. A lot of adoption agencies contract with other agencies to help families start the foster care process. This is also the case for a lot of hospitals. They may have contact information they can provide to you for organizations that will be able to help you start your foster care journey. You can always call your local social services office or department of family and children services. They will always know where to start.
Once you have decided on what agency you want to work with, the next step is probably completing an application. Once your application has been approved the next step is to complete your home assessment. Again, this is the process of collecting the necessary paperwork and visiting your home. Remember, the worker is not at your home to judge your housekeeping skills or decorating skills. While I would suggest keeping your house relatively clean, they are there to educate you on bringing a child into your home. They will be your best resource in becoming foster care parents. They will also be able to connect with your other Arkansas foster care families, which will be a huge benefit to you. It is hard to understand what someone is going through unless they too have gone through the same thing. Having a good support system of other Arkansas foster care families will be a huge asset to you and your family.
I know this is a lot of information in a short amount of time, however, I hope it helps you get a good idea of where to start and how to start the Arkansas foster care process. I know it can be overwhelming and confusing on where to begin, how to begin, and how to get through the process. But let me encourage you to start with one day at a time and one step at a time. Let me also encourage you that you are becoming one of the families to help place the 4,482 children that were in the Arkansas foster care system at the end of 2018. That in itself has to be motivating and encouraging to know that you are making a difference. Keep it up and I wish you the best of luck in becoming an Arkansas foster care parent! I know you can do this!