If you are considering becoming a foster parent in Florida, or you just want to learn more about what the process entails, you undoubtedly have many questions. You may wonder what the requirements are, what the process is like, and what the children you bring into your home might be like. In many states, becoming a foster parent in Florida is something that is sorely needed as there are more children in need of fostering than there are homes to take them. While there is training required when becoming a foster parent in Florida, knowing that you are providing a safe, loving home to children who are truly in need is worth the effort.

The requirements for becoming a foster parent in Florida are similar to many other states. A foster parent in Florida must be at least 21 years of age, financially stable and responsible, and a mature adult. This is demonstrated by showing that you are gainfully employed and have a home life that is stable enough to help provide for a child’s basic needs. Also, in Florida, at least one adult in the home must speak English.  You will complete an application that shares information regarding your background and lifestyle. You will need to provide references from both relatives and nonrelatives. A foster parent in Florida can be single, married, widowed, or divorced, and there are no restrictions on same-sex couples or LGBTQ individuals becoming foster parents in Florida. You will also have to agree to undergo a home study, which will include visits to your home and interviews with anyone living there. During the home study, they will inspect all parts of your home, including outdoor spaces, to ensure they are safe. You will have to complete a criminal history background check and also a check to ensure you have not been charged with abuse or neglect of a child. This and the interviews will have to be done for anyone in your home 14 and older. You will have to attend training to learn about the issues facing neglected and abused children. This training will allow you and the agency to determine if your family is a good fit for foster care and will help solidify what children would be best for placement in your home. All the training is free of charge, and there is no obligation to continue. If at any point you feel you do not want to proceed with the process, you can elect to stop the certification process or possibly postpone it to a time when it might be a better fit for your family.

The home study is an area where many new prospective foster parents find themselves facing some fear when starting the process of becoming a foster parent in Florida. They worry that having a home that looks like anything other than a picture from a catalog is going to disqualify them from fostering, but this isn’t the case in Florida or anywhere else. The home study simply exists to make sure your home is safe and also to help the social worker get to know you and your family better so he or she can help you in deciding what type what children would do well in your home, what special needs you would be willing or able to accommodate, and how many children you could consider fostering at once. Many sibling groups in the foster care system are often forced to separate if there isn’t a home that can accommodate them. If your home can accommodate several children at once, you could expect to receive a sibling set at one point in your fostering journey. Your home study social worker is not looking to disqualify you or trick you in any way, they, in fact, can be great sources of information and support during the adoption process. In general, the specific information your social worker will collect during the home study will include the following:

  • Your motivation to foster—why are you interested in becoming a foster parent?

  • Physical description and social background of each family member (including children).

  • Evaluation of parenting practices, or if you are not currently a parent, what types of practices you think you will adhere to such as how you would discipline a child. 

  • Summary of each family member’s health history and current condition.

  • Informal assessment of each family member’s emotional and mental health.

  • Evaluation of the understanding of and adjustment to foster parenting.

  • Evaluation of the prospective foster parents’ finances and occupations.

  • Description of the home and community.

Financially, you will receive a small stipend to cover the basic needs of each child you foster, but you will need to be prepared to spend your own funds on criminal background checks, home inspections, and the childrens’ needs. Foster children also qualify for Medicaid, which will help with any healthcare costs. You should be prepared that the stipend will not cover all expenses, however. You will undoubtedly need to be financially prepared to purchase clothing, food, school supplies, and any of the other things children might need. The stipend is intended to help but not to cover their full expenses.

In 2016, there were 28,732 children in foster care in Florida. As of January 2017, 3,600 children were waiting for adoptive families. This means, if you become a foster parent in Florida, there is a good chance one or more of the children you foster might become eligible for adoption. You should carefully consider ahead of time if this is something you are interested in and be very clear with your caseworker if and when you are open to adopting any of the children in your care. Some families solely foster; some families adopt and continue to foster, and some families foster, then adopt, then stop fostering. Take the time to talk with your family, including your children, about what would be the best plan for your family, taking into account everyone’s needs and wishes. Children who are placed in foster care have all experienced some sort of trauma that has caused them to be separated from their biological family. Abuse and neglect are common, which means foster children will have special emotional needs and require a different style of therapeutic parenting than other children might. Some children in foster care also qualify as “special needs.” This could mean anything from ADD to severe physical disabilities or even just that the child has been waiting for a long time for placement. The term “special needs” is used to define children with several characteristics and does not necessarily mean the child has a mental, emotional, or physical disability. In the state of Florida, a child with special needs is one who meets all of the criteria in this section:

The child is in the care of DCFS, has not turned 18 years old, and meets one of the following conditions:

  • The child is at least 6 years old

  • The child is at least 2 years old and a member of a racial or ethnic group that exits foster care at a slower pace than other racial or ethnic groups

  • The child is part of a sibling group that is being adopted together or is being adopted to join siblings that have previously been adopted

  • The child has a verifiable physical, mental, or emotionally disabling condition, as established by an appropriately qualified professional through a diagnosis that addresses what the condition is AND that the condition is disabling, or the child qualifies to receive SSI benefits for disability.

  • DCFS has determined that the child cannot or should not return home to his or her parents.

  • A reasonable effort has been made to find an adoptive placement for the child without paid adoption assistance.

Again, make sure you and the other members of your family are all on the same page as to what you are capable of accommodating and be upfront with your social worker about what that is. While you might feel guilty for saying “no” to some children, understand that those kids who would not do well in your home will have some other home that will be a better fit. For example, if you live in a three-story townhouse with multiple sets of stairs, you might not be a good fit for a child in a wheelchair. However, someone who lives in a one-story ranch-style home would be a better fit. Be realistic about what you can accommodate and if you have specific questions about disabilities or special needs, talk to your social worker. Your social worker will be very familiar with what special needs children require and will be able to work with you to determine what types of special needs you could accommodate.

When becoming a foster parent in Florida, you will want to find sources of support throughout your journey. In-person support groups for foster families exist as do online support groups. Being a foster parent to children who have experienced significant trauma in their lifetimes can be challenging and isolating. Other friends who are parents cannot fully understand the demands of caring for a child who has experienced trauma, but other foster parents can. Other foster parents can be great sources of information on therapeutic parenting techniques, resources in your area, and even just moral support on hard days. In any challenging situation, it can be a tremendous help just to know you have someone in your corner who can say “I get it.” There might also come a time where you receive placement of a child who you realize is not a good fit for your household or whose needs you feel you cannot meet. This can be very discouraging for foster parents and can make them feel inadequate, but other foster parents can help support you and provide you with moral support as well as information to help make the transition out of your home as easy as possible for you, and this child.

It is also very common that children who enter into foster care return to their biological family. This is the ultimate goal of the foster care system: reunification. When you have spent time caring for a child, and she leaves your care to return to her family, it can be a bittersweet experience. This is the fear most people have about fostering; they say they could never “get attached” to a child only to have him or her leave. While you are undoubtedly happy that the child is returning to his family and that his family has overcome whatever difficulty caused him to be placed in the first place, you will undoubtedly feel a sense of loss when the child leaves you, whether he was with you for one week or one year. This is something you will deal with as a foster parent, and other foster parents can help you navigate those emotions.

While it is true that becoming a foster parent in Florida, or anywhere else for that matter, can be challenging, the challenges don’t outweigh the benefits. Knowing you have been a safe place for a child who has never known safety and was a loving parent to a child who may not have received unconditional love is tremendously fulfilling. Foster children will test you and will have needs that require time and effort, but seeing their growth is remarkably rewarding. The transformation children undergo when they are in a home that is safe, stable, and loving is incredible. Being a part of that transformation for a child who truly needs it is its own reward. The need for foster parents is tremendous. If you are considering being a foster parent in Florida, know that you would be providing an invaluable service to children who are truly in need. Every child deserves to feel safe in her own home, to have her basic needs accommodated, and know that there is at least one adult in her corner who believes in her and cares for her. If you think you and your family could provide this for a child, and you are considering being a foster parent in Florida, visit Adoption.com to learn more about the requirements and to find contact information for the foster care agency serving your area.

Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.