Many people who eventually become foster parents have been thinking about it for a while. With roughly 400,000 children in the United States foster care system on any given day, the idea of providing a safe, loving, stable environment for a child in need is a strong need. Foster care is defined as the temporary arrangement through which a child is removed from their family or guardian’s home and then placed in another home with unrelated foster parent(s) or relatives. Children are removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment by their parents or guardians. Children enter the foster care system through no fault of their own, and foster children come in all ages, races, and ethnicities. As of May 2018, the last date data was available, there were 4,800 children in the foster care system of Maryland. The choice to become a foster parent is a big decision but the impact you can have on a child’s life is even greater. Here is everything you need to know about foster care in Maryland.
Children in Foster Care
The children in foster care in Maryland range in age from infant to teenager, are both boys and girls and are of any race. Children are typically served by foster care until they are 18 years old, but up to age 21, they may be served if they have special needs or if they are in an educational or vocational training program. The average time spent in foster care in Maryland is between six to 24 months. Of the close to 5,000 children in foster care in Maryland, roughly 250 have had their parental rights terminated and are legally free for adoption. Every county in Maryland, including Baltimore City, operates a foster care program.
To become a resource (foster) parent in Maryland you must be 21 years old. There is no maximum age to be a resource parent, but prospective resource parents who are age 60 or older will need to be observed to ensure they have the strength and adequate resources to care for a child. Boys and girls may not sleep in the same room, so enough bedrooms must be provided. No stackable (bunk) beds are allowed in resource parent homes. Resource parents may be single or married, live in an apartment or a house, be able to meet the financial obligations of having a child, and be willing to provide safe, short-term care for a child in need. There are no requirements for full-time parent care and no listed guidelines on the number of children allowed to live in the house.
Perhaps most importantly, with foster care in Maryland, resource families must be willing to work with their foster child’s birth families. Maryland actively features a “family to family” program which encourages foster families both to be in contact with and play an active role in the birth family’s lives. Reunification is always the goal and resource families should be prepared to support this objective. Because of Maryland’s family-to-family focus, every effort is made to place foster children with resource families in their direct community. Whenever possible, the foster child will be kept at their same school, near or in their same neighborhood, so they may continue to interact with their friends, teachers, and other members of their support system.
Where to Start
The first step in becoming a resource parent in Maryland is to reach out to the local county office. Because Maryland is so family-to-family focused, each local Department of Social Services is responsible for engaging, training, licensing, and retaining resource parents and homes. Prospective resource parents will-call, express their interest and then be invited to a two-hour informational meeting. The purpose of the informational meeting is to learn the type of children currently available and local and state policies with regards to these children. Interested resource parents will learn the process to become resource parents and the type of agency support available throughout placement.
Following the information session, prospective resource parents will complete 27 hours of pre-service training. The training is broken into nine 3-hour sessions and is designed to teach resource parents about the special needs of children in the foster care system. Issues of attachment, experiences of grief and loss, responses to abuse and neglect, and behavior intervention are typically covered in the training. Between training, prospective resource families will be expected to complete homework assignments to show they have retained the information. For families who remain resource parents, 10 hours of in-service continuing education must be completed each year. Caseworkers may recommend additional training in medical and/or mental health depending on the type of child the resource parents are open to fostering.
Additionally, prospective resource parents must be trained and able to enact the reasonable and prudent parent standard. The standard is designed to encourage sensible parenting to keep the foster child healthy and safe while encouraging the child’s emotional and developmental growth. At a younger age, this means providing opportunities for age-appropriate activities. At an older age, this means encouraging youth to become self-sufficient. Most importantly, decisions about the child’s activities should be based on the child’s developmental age and not necessarily their biological age. Resource parents should be able to recognize that there may be a difference in age-appropriate activities depending on the endeavor. For example, a child may be physically more mature and able to participate in an activity, but cognitively or emotionally at a younger age.
Following pre-service training, prospective resource parents will work to complete a home study. Each adult over the age of 18 in the prospective resource family’s home must be fingerprinted and complete a criminal background check. Resource parents must complete a health exam and tuberculosis test (and then a reexamination every two years they remain a resource parent) and provide three reference letters citing the resource parents’ parenting ability. Both a home safety and sanitation inspection by the health department and a fire inspection by the fire department must be completed for every resource family in foster care Maryland. For any children currently in the home, school records will need to be provided. All pets must be vaccinated and licensed as well.
A minimum of two in-person visits by a state-licensed caseworker is required. During the visit, the caseworker will discuss with the prospective resource parent what type of child they are open to fostering. Different resource families may be open to a younger or older child, sibling sets, and/or special needs. The caseworker will observe the resource family’s home, see where the child will sleep, and discuss any questions or concerns the resource family may have. Once the home study is complete and the clearances are obtained, a family will be approved as a resource parent.
Meeting the Child
Upon resource parent approval, families are eligible to have a child placed in their home. Children are placed either through a court order (involuntarily) or because their parents are requesting them to be placed temporarily outside the home (voluntarily). To determine placement, the agency will first try to place the child with a family member, then a previous (resource family) placement, and finally with a new resource family. Agencies try to keep sibling groups together and barring the same placement, siblings will be placed geographically close to one another. Agencies take into account the child’s religious, cultural, and ethnic background. If possible, the child will be matched with a resource family of the same background, and preference is given to resource families of the same race and ethnic background of the foster child.
When preparing to meet a foster child, it is important to have some items on hand to ease their transition. Small things like a new toothbrush, toiletries, pajamas, and a few new toys can help a new foster child feel welcome in the home. When the child arrives, try to have an activity on hand to do together. Offer the child something to eat and drink and show them where they can find snacks, but encourage them to ask first. Know that the child may need some time to themselves to process their transition so show them their room and where the bathroom is, and then allow them to explore their new home on their own terms. Try to establish a routine and have meals and bedtimes at set hours. Most importantly, give the child some time. It is not uncommon for the child to withdraw and reject both talk and physical touch during the first days of their new placement.
Support for resource parents and foster children is the keystone of Maryland’s Department of Social Services. Resource parents and the child’s caseworker will communicate frequently about how the child is adjusting, any challenges the child or the resource family may be facing, and help in decision-making with regards to the child. Resource parents should feel free to contact their caseworker to express concern over any changes in behavior or circumstances. Remember, the foster child has been in a period of great transition so certain events (like the first day of school or a court hearing) may prove to be a trigger for the child.
By state regulation, the child is required to be attending school within five days of placement. The caseworker will follow-up to ensure this is the case. Every effort will be made to keep the child at their school of origin. Understanding that children in foster care may have educational setbacks, Maryland recently designed an “Access to Education Handbook for Children in State Supervised Care.” The purpose of the handbook is to highlight some of the frequent challenges and common barriers children in state care may experience. The handbook helps resource families and educators alike to provide the best possible educational experience for children in foster care. For older youth, tuition assistance is available. Under the Federal Education, Voucher Program foster youth may receive up to $5,000 a year for college or vocational training if the student is full-time, and $2,500 a year for part-time students.
Financially, resource families will receive monthly stipends to cover the foster child’s room and board. Depending on the level of care required, a different per diem will apply. In foster care in Maryland, there are two levels of care—regular foster care and intermediate foster care. For foster children between the ages of infant through age 11, the monthly stipend is $835. For children age 12 and older, the monthly stipend is $850. Children in intermediate foster care between the ages of infant through age 11 have a monthly stipend of $950 and children age 12 and older have a monthly stipend of $965.
Additionally, all families involved in foster care in Maryland will have access to the foster parent ombudsman, who serves as an advocate for resource parents. The Maryland Resource Parent Association is another wonderful resource and can be a great way to connect with fellow resource parents both in the community and throughout the state.
Adoption from Foster Care
In Maryland, all resource families are dually approved to both foster and foster to adopt. Not every family will foster to adopt and some families may choose to foster to adopt as their path to providing a child in need with a forever home. It is important to remember that not all children in foster care in Maryland are eligible for adoption. Family reunification is always the first and primary goal but when family reunification is not possible, then the child’s “permanency plan” will be changed to adoption and the parental rights will be terminated. At that time, the Department of Social Services would turn to the current resource family to see if they have an interest in adopting the child. For the adoption to then take place, the child will have had to be living in the home for a minimum of 12 months. Though Maryland counts only roughly 250 children currently eligible for adoption, there are over 100,000 children in the U.S. in need of forever homes. Adoption across state lines is possible thanks to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children so interested families should visit Adoption.com or speak with a state foster family agency to get started.
Are you and your partner ready to start the adoption process? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to begin your adoption journey. We have 130+ years of adoption experience and would love to help you.