New to foster care? Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect. Before I proceed, however, let me warn you: I cannot guarantee that what I know coincides with the same facts, procedures, and policies of the Department of Family Services in your county and state. However, most of the general information is very similar across county and state lines.

Coming to the decision to become a foster parent is already a brave act in and of itself. At least it was for me. I’m not exactly sure why, but it took a lot of time and contemplation. From what others had told me, it involved more paperwork, classes, certifications, and time than what my husband and I encountered in becoming approved for domestic adoption. I felt a lot of discouragement, but ultimately knew this was the road my husband and I wanted to pursue.

To get the ball rolling, start with your county’s Department of Family Services. I simply used Google to find the phone number and spoke with the head caseworker. She asked a few questions and told us she would send a “welcome packet.” This would have the information we would need to start the process of becoming certified. It also included a few documents and a pamphlet with simple facts and contact information for the department.

Then you’ll need to get certified. Each state has different requirements. For example, in Ohio, certification requires attending “pre-service” classes. This means 12 training courses broken up into two, three-hour classes twice a week for six weeks. I am convinced this is how the department sifts through people to find those who are committed. Half of those in our first class did not make it to the last class. Confession: these classes were long and for the most part quite boring. It was hard to sit for three hours listening to power point slides. I employed some tactics from my college days to keep my attention sharp. Taking notes helped a lot, and I’m confident I will need them in the future.

Next up: paperwork. Once our pre-service classes were completed, which I consider foster care warm-up, we began the paperwork phase, which I’ve lovingly refer to the, “killing a forest” phase because so. much. paperwork. If you are familiar with the process or have adopted in the past it will come somewhat easily to you, but it will still be time-consuming. You will need to submit your background checks, get fingerprinted, collect pay stubs, and obtain birth certificates. Then there are the surveys. Be prepared to offer up every little detail of your personal and private life. Nothing is off-limits.

Next in line are the home visits and in-person interviews. These made me super nervous. Our caseworker asked us basically the exact same questions as we answered in our paperwork. Overall it took four home visits to complete the interviews and then one more visit for “site and safety” and one more visit for “policies and procedures.”

Site and safety is just what it sounds like. We had a two-page list of what was required to be certified. Things like making sure all cleaning products were up high, as well as having all prescription medications being under lock and key.

Policies and procedures consisted of a one-hour meeting with the head caseworker at the department about stuff you’d never think of. For instance, in our county, to even take a foster child to get a haircut, we would have to ask our case worker, who in turn sometimes have to ask the biological parents. These are all the random things you wouldn’t ever think of yourself.

After all this, it’s certification time! Then on to providing life-changing care to children who need it.

Now rise! And consider yourself initiated in the world of foster care. Go forth and use this knowledge as you embark upon your foster care journey.