Within the foster care system in the United States, there are roughly 400,000 children in need of a temporary placement on any given day. While many children may be placed with relatives until they can return to their homes, for some, no appropriate relatives are available. For these children, a temporary solution must be found. That is where you, as a foster parent, can come in.
Foster parents are people who love, nurture, and support some of the most vulnerable of children. The children in foster care have been through a lot in their short lives and if you are willing to open your heart and your home then you can make a real difference. Becoming a foster parent means more than providing support for the child. It means offering support and mentorship to the child’s parents or caregivers and making a real difference in not just one but many people’s futures.
In the state of Florida, the Department of Children and Family Services is looking for foster families. The Department of Children and Family Services contracts 18 community-based care partner agencies that provide foster and adoption services and each of these agencies recruit and train hundreds of families across Florida every year. Could you be one of them?
Children in Foster Care
In the state of Florida, there are roughly 19,000 children in foster care. Of these children, 600 have had their parental rights revoked and are eligible for adoption. Children who are in foster care have been abused and neglected by their parents or caregivers through no fault of their own. Foster children come in all ages, races, ethnicities, and from all socio-economic backgrounds. In Florida, there is a particular need for foster parents who are open to fostering teens, sibling groups, and children with special needs.
Foster Parent Eligibility
To become a foster parent Florida you must be at least 21 years old. You may be single, married, or divorced. Partners living together in the same house are permitted as well, but in this instance, both individuals must go through the licensing process. Interested foster parents must provide proof of legal residency in Florida and proof of legal status as a United States citizen. Children in foster care often have a number of appointments to get to and need ongoing transportation so to be a foster parent in Florida, a valid Florida driver’s license is required as well as access to a reliable vehicle and up-to-date auto insurance.
With regards to housing, prospective foster parents may either own their home or rent, just as long as the housing in which the prospective foster parents reside is neither The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development nor Section 8 housing. Homes must have a minimum of two bedrooms. Per the Florida Department of Children’s Services, a bedroom is defined as a private space with a door, a window, and a closet. A minimum of 40 square feet of a bedroom is required for each foster child. Each foster child must have their own bed to sleep in and sharing of beds is not permitted, even in the case of siblings. Children over the age of 3 may not share a bedroom with a child of a different sex. Adults and children may not share a bedroom either.
Foster parents are permitted to work outside the home, though if outside childcare will be provided, then the prospective foster parents must obtain approval of the childcare provider prior to placement. Due to licensing requirements, prospective foster parents are not permitted to hold a dual license from the Florida Department of Children’s Services to operate as a daycare as well as a foster parent. Lastly, a back-up provider must be identified prior to beginning the foster care licensing process. The back-up provider is someone who can stand in for the licensed foster parents, if needs be, to provide transportation, babysitting, and care. All back-up providers must pass a background screening and must provide a current copy of both their driver’s license and auto insurance to retain on file with the foster parent’s license.
Where to Begin
Making the decision to become a foster parent Florida is a big step. But once you have made the decision, knowing what to do next can be confusing. To get the ball rolling, every prospective foster parent must first contact their community-based care agency in the county in which they reside. There are 18 community-based care agencies across the state and several of Florida’s 67 counties share the same agencies. To find a full list, visit the Florida Department of Children’s Services to find your county and community-based care agency.
Once you have identified an agency, the first step will be to make a quick five- to 10-minute call to answer and see if you meet the Florida foster parent eligibility guidelines, as outlined above. If you qualify, you will then be asked to register for the next county Foster Parent Orientation. During the orientation, prospective foster parents will receive an overview of the foster care system, the types of children in need of foster care, and an introduction to the role foster parents play in the triad between agency, birth parents/caregivers, and the foster parents. It is important for prospective foster parents to understand what a relationship with the child’s birth parents/caregivers will look like and why it is in the best interest of the child to promote these relationships.
After the orientation, prospective foster parents will have a face-to-face meeting with someone from the community-based partner agency to go over the paperwork required to obtain a foster parent Florida license. Foster parents will need to show proof of residency, health and auto insurance, and suitable income. Though foster parents are provided a monthly stipend by the state, it is important that prospective foster parents demonstrate their ability to financially care for a child. Next, you will need to complete a criminal background investigation, fingerprinting, and a child abuse and neglect clearance for all adults over the age of 18 residing in the home and all youth, between the ages of 12-17, residing in the home. Additionally, you will need to supply references, who will speak to your ability to care for and nurture a child, and a health screening. Families will also write a brief history of their family background and why they are interested in becoming a foster parent.
Every foster parent is required to go through between 20-40 hours of training prior to receiving their foster parent Florida license. The number of training hours required varies by county. Some counties offer an accelerated three-week course and some offer a six- to seven-week course. Generally, there are two courses held in Florida, either the Parent Resource for Information Development and Education (otherwise known as PRIDE) or the Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting (otherwise known as Model).
The purpose of the training is to educate prospective foster parents about what foster children may have, and likely have, experienced in their short lives. Topics include dealing with grief and loss, responding to abuse and neglect, understanding attachment issues, and behavior challenges. It is important to understand how foster care may affect a child’s development. Children may act their physical age in some arenas but present a much younger age emotionally or developmentally. Prospective foster parents interested in fostering a special needs child may undergo additional training. Classes typically begin every two to three months with classes available both during the week and on the weekends to accommodate all prospective foster parent schedules. First AID, CPR, and a basic Water Safety training are also required, in addition to the above.
Typically, as prospective foster parents are completing their foster parent education training, a state-licensed social worker from the community-based care partner agency will visit the home. The visit is similar to a home study, but it is called a license study. The purpose of the visit is to ensure your address is correct, there is adequate space for a foster child, and to complete a home inspection. During the home inspection, the social worker will ensure all smoke and radon detectors are operational and central to sleeping areas and that the home’s fire extinguisher has been inspected and tagged. If the home is close to water or has a pool, the social worker will review safety guidelines and ensure steps have been taken to secure the body of water area. It is important to note, too, that it is not necessary for the prospective foster child’s bedroom to be set up during this time.
Additionally, during the meeting, the social worker will go over what type of child you are open to fostering. Is there a maximum or minimum age you will consider? Are you open to special needs? What about children with a history of abuse? It is important to be honest about what you can handle and what might be too much for your family. There is no right or wrong answer and a truthful answer may make the difference in a successful foster placement. Lastly, the social worker will address any outstanding questions you may have about the foster care process, placement, or support system. From orientation through license study typically takes six to eight months. Once the license study is approved and the pre-foster parent training is complete, you will receive your foster parent Florida license.
Meeting the Child
Congratulations! You received your foster parent Florida license and are eligible to accept a placement of a child or children into your home. The way foster placement works in Florida is all foster parents are added to a master log of available placement locations. The master log indicates your location, the beds available, and what type of child you are open to fostering. When a child is removed from their home, which can occur at all hours of the day, the placement department goes through the master log of foster parents and selects one they believe will be the best match with the foster child. The placement office shares as much information about the foster child that they can and then you have a short window in which to accept or deny the placement. If you accept the placement, then the social worker will arrive with the child shortly thereafter.
Preparing to meet a foster child for the first time can be nerve-wracking both for the foster parents and the foster child. Even though you may have a short time frame until placement, try to have a few welcome items on hand for the new child. When the child arrives, take them through your home slowly, particularly noting where the bathroom is and where their room is. Know that the adjustment to their new home and you may take some time, so be sure to give the child the space they need. Know too, that your social worker is always on hand 24/7 to answer any questions you might have or to help if a difficult decision arises. Foster children have been through a lot, and it takes a village to support a child—so use your village!
Financial Support of Foster Families
By state regulation, foster parents will receive monthly stipends to cover the foster child’s expenses. Florida’s Department of Children and Family Services offers $466.65 a month for newborn children to age 5, $478.60 a month for children age 6-12, and $560.19 a month for youth between the ages of 13-21. Additionally, foster parents receive stipends each month for allowance, incidentals, and clothing. At first placement, there is an initial clothing stipend of $35, for ages 0-5; $36, for ages 6-12; and $43, for ages 13-21 available. Annual clothing stipends are also available.
All children in the U.S. foster care system receive Medicaid benefits. Children age 8 and under qualify for a voucher to cover the associated expenses of childcare. Additionally, there are numerous free community services and events available throughout the year to foster parents and children.
For youth who are older, Florida offers extended foster care and financial assistance to those who are in danger of aging out of the system. Florida also offers a “Road to Independence” scholarship which is a stipend for students up to the age of 23 who have aged out of the foster care system and are going to college or pursuing other post-high school studies. The stipend is designed to cover school expenses as well as some living expenses.