Arizona! Land of the Diamondbacks, the Suns the Cardinals, and the Coyotes! Arizona is a great place to catch a game. But if you are looking to enter the wide, wide world of foster care, Arizona is a great state to do it in. Nationwide, there are over 400,000 children in foster care at any one time. In Arizona are over 13,000 children in out-of-home care and about 4,200 foster homes who cared for these kids. That’s over three foster kids per home, not including group homes or residential treatment facilities.
What exactly is foster care? Foster care is temporary, out-of-home care for a child whose parents are unwilling or unable to properly care for them. Foster children are in care through no fault of their own, and most of the time, they are there due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. The average amount of time a child spends in foster care is about one year, and most of these children are reunited with their biological parents. If reunification is not possible, then adoption, guardianship, kinship care, or independent living may be offered as an alternative. Interested in becoming involved in foster care in Arizona? Here’s how!
There are multiple types of foster care Arizona provides to children in care. Depending on your experience, skill level, and family dynamics, you will have to choose which service type is right for you and your family. A regular or family foster home is a family that provides everyday care for a child who cannot be cared for in her own home. As with all foster homes, this family takes in a foster child, sometimes on a moment’s notice, and makes her a part of their own family until she is returned to her family. A respite provider gives a regular foster home a break anywhere from a couple of hours to a weekend or up to two weeks so that the foster family can take a needed break or tend to a family emergency. Becoming a respite foster parent is a good way to start the foster care journey.
A kinship home is a home that is related to the child, and therefore has a familiarity with the child already. Kinship foster homes may be grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, or older siblings. A fictive foster parent is someone within the community that is already familiar with the child, as in a teacher, a youth pastor, a neighbor, or good friend. They may not be related, but they know the child enough to make a good transition.
This next set of service types require extra training, monitoring, and supervision due to the intense special needs of the children they care for. A therapeutic (HCTC) foster home cares for children who have behavioral needs that require 1:1 care. A child development home (CDH) cares for children with developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome, epilepsy, autism, etc. There are also foster homes that are in need of youth coming out of the juvenile justice system. Not all of these service types may be for you, but the more experience you gain and the more success you gain, the more confident you will become.
Entering foster care in Arizona, applicants who wish to provide services must first become licensed with the state of Arizona. The agency that governs foster care licensing is called the Office of Licensing and Regulation (OLR), which is a department within the Department of Child Services (DCS). The entire licensing process takes about four to seven months, depending on how much paperwork is required for your family. Why does it take so long? Think of it this way: if you were unable to take care of your child, wouldn’t you want to know as much as you could so that you would know that your child was in the safest home possible?
The first thing an applicant must do is to attend an orientation either in a group setting or in the comfort of your own home while viewing an online version of the orientation. The online orientation is 45 minutes long and gives the applicant a good overview of the foster care system.
The next step is to choose a foster care licensing agency. DCS contracts with private agencies who train, license, supervise, and monitor foster homes in behalf of the state. Foster care agencies differ according to where you are located in the state, service types, and philosophy. For example, there are some agencies that are located statewide, but other agencies that are located only in certain counties. Also, there may be faith-based foster care agencies who recruit applicants that share the faith of the agency. They may go above and beyond state-licensing requirements.
The next step in entering foster care in Arizona is becoming enrolled in a preservice training called Foster Parent College (FPC). FPC is a free training that your licensing agency enrolls you in. FPC is a hybrid course where you take half the course online and the other half in a classroom setting. The course is generally 30 hours long and provides information such as trauma, the educational system, the behavioral health system, and the child welfare system. It also provides real-world case studies and interviews with real foster parents and foster youth.
Simultaneous to attending the FPC class, your licensing agency will walk you through the paperwork. Some people would rather have a root canal than complete any type of paperwork! But again, this paperwork provides a snapshot of what type of foster parent you may be in the future. For example, all applicants, as well as any additional household members, will have to complete full background checks. The first is a criminal background check. This involves obtaining a level one fingerprint clearance card and submitting a notarized Criminal History Self Disclosure Affidavit. Next is a Child Protective Services clearance records check. The is a background check to determine whether the applicant has had any substantiated allegations of abuse or neglect in his or her past. It may also include an Adam Walsh check which includes checks in other states if the applicant has lived outside of Arizona in the last five years. Finally, your agency may run a motor vehicle services check to determine your driving record. You don’t need to work about small parking fines. However, if you have had a DUI, that may be an area of concern.
Some additional requirements of foster care licensing are as follows. A home study, which your licensing agency writes. A home study is a snapshot of your family life, biography, attitude, values, and culture of your family. Family interviews will be conducted to determine the motivation, character, and ability to foster a child. At least five references will be obtained in writing and by phone. A Life-Safety Inspection will be conducted by OLR and ensures that the home and premises of the foster home are safe and provide as little risk as possible. A physician’s statement must also be submitted by a doctor who can evaluate your fitness to provide care for a child. There may be additional requirements that your licensing agency may place upon applicants, but these are the minimum requirements needed to provide foster care in Arizona.
THE AZ FOSTER CARE EXPERIENCE
Congratulations! After meeting all state requirements, you have finally become a licensed foster parent in the state of Arizona. You should expect to receive a license from your licensing agency which contains your name, address, and license parameters which includes the following: service type, age range, gender of child, and how many foster children can be placed (population). At this point, your name will be given to DCS, and you may start receiving calls to accept a foster child immediately. Your agency and DCS will—together—try to place a child whose needs you can meet and who fits your family dynamics the best. The call could come anytime day or night, and the reasons children are removed from their homes vary, but the number one reason is due to neglect such as exposure to drugs or alcohol.
When a child is placed in foster care, Arizona provides a team of professionals to help that child. First, the child is assigned a DCS case manager who is the child’s legal guardian. The case manager makes legal decisions, financial decisions, and reports to DCS as well as the courts. Next, DCS enrolls the child in the local behavioral health clinic, and if the child is 0-3 years old, proceedings are started to have a developmental assessment completed to see if the child has any delays. Behavioral health then starts monthly as well as Child and Family Team Meetings (CFTs). This is what will determine what is best for the child, what the long-term goals are, and if reunification is a realistic goal. The CFT team includes DCS, behavioral health, the foster parents, biological parents, attorneys, and any other interested parties. The child may be assigned a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASAs) who are volunteers that befriend the child, mentor the child, and make reports and recommendations that go back directly to the courts. The court system tracks the progress of the child and the biological parents to determine what is best for the child. Most cases start off in the reunification stage, and most children are reunified with their parents. If reunification is not possible after a year or so, the case moves into adoption, guardianship, or independent living if there has been no progress by the biological parents. Children 10 years old or older have a say in their permanency and may participate in court proceedings, if appropriate. Foster parents are expected to make a brief statement as to the health, development, and emotional well-being of the child. If the parental rights of the biological parents are severed, the foster parents may be eligible to adopt that child in foster care adoption.
Here are some other things to keep in mind if you want to provide foster care in Arizona.
1) The Interstate Compact for the Protection of Children (ICPC). If an Arizona resident wants to foster across state lines, they must complete an ICPC with their current agency.
2) The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Preference is given to Native Americans who wish to adopt Native American children from the foster care system.
I’LL TAKE A RAIN CHECK
Let’s face it. Foster care may not be for you. Perhaps you are not prepared for the changes in your family dynamic, are frustrated with the child welfare system, are uncomfortable with people coming in and out of your home, or it’s just not the right time to foster. You may want to consider serving children in another way. Perhaps you may be better off becoming a coach or tutor or a big brother/big sister or a youth group leader or becoming a CASA volunteer. Finally, if foster care is not for you, have you considered helping another foster family in your area? They would love your assistance, and that would go a long way in helping in that child’s development. Not everyone can foster, but everyone can do something!
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