On any given day there are roughly 400,000 children in foster care in the United States. Foster care provides a temporary living situation for a child who has been removed from their own home due to a high risk or history of abuse and/or neglect. Temporary care may be provided by relatives (who may or may not be licensed) or non-relatives (who must be licensed). Becoming a foster parent is a big decision. There are many children in need throughout the country and interested foster parents should be prepared to take on the challenges of a child who has experienced abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment.
Foster parents should provide stability and support for their foster child and meet the basic needs of clothing, food, and a safe place to live. As a foster parent, you will be expected to navigate the relationships between your foster child, their birth families, school officials, and caseworkers. Advocating for your foster child whenever the need arises is an important aspect as well. Foster parents will participate in case planning for their foster child, support their foster child’s case planning goal, and participate in court hearings (when requested). Most importantly, every foster parent should be flexible, responsible, caring, open-minded, and have an open heart.
Though certain federal programs, such as Medicaid, provide funds to states to support foster children and foster families, foster care itself is state-run. Like domestic adoption, each state is responsible for defining the rules and regulations with regards to foster care. As such the parental requirements vary from state to state. Here is everything you need to know to become a foster parent Indiana.
Children in Foster Care
There are approximately 9,294 children in the state-run foster care system in Indiana. Many of the children in foster care have had their parental rights terminated and are waiting for their forever families. Most children in Indiana foster care are between the ages of 8 and 16 and come from every racial and ethnic group. Younger children occasionally enter the foster care system but typically these children are reunified with their family or adopted by another family member. Children in foster care may have mental, physical, developmental, or emotional special needs. Sibling groups are prevalent, and there is an urgent need for families willing to adopt older children and/or sibling groups.
Children in foster care are there through no fault of their own. Though many of the children have experienced abuse or neglect, when provided with a nurturing, stable, structured foster care environment these children can thrive. According to the Indiana Department of Child Services, in April 2019 (the last date for which data was available), the average length of stay in Indiana foster care was 20 months. After this time, children were either reunified with their families or another permanent placement was found, such as kinship adoption or adoption from foster care.
For foster parent Indiana, applicants must be at least 21 years old. Prospective foster parents may be single, married, or cohabitating. If prospective foster parents have a significant other or partner with whom they are cohabitating, then they must have been living together for at least one year in order to demonstrate a stable relationship and home environment for the prospective foster child.
It is not necessary to own a home in order to be a foster parent. All that is required is adequate bedroom space for the foster child and a safe home environment, which will be evaluated by a state-licensed social worker.
There is no maximum number of children allowed in the home for interested foster parents. Foster parents may work outside the home, provided an approved childcare plan is made, and ongoing reliable transportation is required. Prospective foster parents must demonstrate financial stability, which will be evaluated during the home study process.
Where to Start
To begin the process, interested foster parents will fill out an online inquiry with the Indiana DCS. Indiana is comprised of 92 counties so depending on which county the foster parent Indiana resides, they will work with a region-specific foster care specialist. Once the online inquiry is made, the DCS regional foster care specialist will contact the prospective foster parents to find out a bit more information and to formally begin the process. A complete list of Indiana county contacts can be found through the DCS website.
Before a home study may be started, interested foster parents must complete a licensing packet. The licensing packet is comprised of an application for foster family home license, a list of four references (at least two of which may not be related by blood), medical statements from a licensed professional for every member of the family attesting to each family member’s quality of health, and a copy of the prospective foster parents’ birth certificates and driver’s licenses. For each member of the household, regardless of age, a completed Indiana request for a CPS history check, and a completed application for criminal history background check must be included. Fingerprinting will be required as well. Once this step is completed, prospective foster families may begin the 10 hours of required training.
During the training, prospective foster parents will learn the challenges and unique needs of children in the foster care system. Behavioral issues are common for children who have experienced abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment. How one should discipline children who have been touched by such maltreatment differs greatly from how one would discipline a child who has grown up under different circumstances. Prospective foster parents can expect to learn how to interact with their foster child’s social worker, and learn what role they, as foster parents, play in the triad between the social worker, the child, and the child’s birth family.
Additional training will include CPR, First Aid, and Universal Precautions training. Once prospective foster parents complete their initial training and are approved as listened foster parent Indiana providers, they will need to complete 15 hours of in-service training annually to maintain their approved license status.
Every prospective foster family will need to complete a home study in order to become a licensed foster parent. A home study is essentially an assessment of the prospective foster parents’ home environment to see what type of child would be best for the family and vice versa. To begin, prospective foster parents will complete the foster family assessment, a water agreement (for water safety), a resource parent role acknowledgment (citing an understanding of what it means to be a foster parent) and a foster family inventory.
The foster family inventory is essentially a snapshot of the prospective foster parent’s employment, education, family, and background. Questions include the foster parent’s relationship with their parents and siblings, motivations for fostering or fostering to adopt, friends and family’s attitudes towards fostering or fostering to adopt, and what the foster parent’s childhood was like. Did the foster parent like their childhood? What was memorable? What sports or activities did they enjoy? Questions will also pertain to the foster parent’s hobbies, likes and dislikes, and how they raise and discipline or would raise and discipline their children. The reason behind the lengthy questionnaire is for the Indiana regional licensed specialist to get a better idea of who the prospective foster parent is, their relationship with others, and what their attitudes toward parenting are like. By understanding this, the regional licensed specialist will be better equipped to match the right child with the right family.
At least one in-home, in-person visit with a state-licensed social worker will take place prior to home study approval. During the home study visit, the social worker will meet with the prospective foster parents, go over the foster family inventory and review any questions they might have. At this time, the social worker will discuss what type of child the family is open to fostering. The child’s age, potential special need, and a family’s openness to sibling sets will be considered.
The social worker will go through the resource family home environment checklist to ensure that all safety precautions (such as fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, radon detectors) are met. If the family is planning to use a childcare provider, then the child care plan form will be completed at this time. At least three prospective childcare providers should be identified prior to the home visit.
Once a family has completed all their forms and passed local and federal background checks and fingerprinting as well as been cleared by CPS, the social worker will write up the home study for approval. Once approved, a standard foster family home license will be issued by the Indiana Department of Child Services. Licenses are issued for a period of four years, but that does not mean the foster parents have to be active during that full time.
If a family chooses to voluntarily withdraw their foster care license, they need only complete the Indiana application for licensure relinquishment. Families who choose to continue as foster families will be reviewed annually by the Indiana regional foster care specialist. The purpose of the review is to ensure the foster family is continuing to meet Indiana state requirements for licensure and to note if anything about the family has changed (such as moving to a new house or welcoming a new child into the family).
Meeting the Child
Once a family has a foster family home license, they are eligible to match with a foster child. Decisions regarding matching the child take into account the foster parent’s skill set, resources, specified openness, and location. Whenever possible, foster children are placed with foster parents in close proximity to their birth families, particularly when family reunification is the case goal. Even if reunification is not the goal, an effort will be made to keep the foster child close to the community they know to ensure an easier transition to the new foster family.
When preparing to meet a foster child, many families are nervous for the first time. Just remember as nervous as the foster parent is, the foster child is 10 times so. To welcome the new foster child, think about having some small items on hand—such as new pajamas, a small toy, a set of toiletries, and snacks. Many children leave these things behind when they move from home to home.
When the child arrives, take some time to show them the house, particularly where to find the bathroom, then allow them to explore their new environment on their own terms. Have snacks and beverages readily available. Remember, any child in foster care has been through a lot. It may take some time before the child warms up to their foster parents and establishing a new routine may occur over a stretch of a few days or weeks. Be patient and know adjustment and attachment take time.
Though foster care is funded on the federal level, each state decides foster parent per diem rates. Per diem rates are designed to cover the cost of food and basic needs of the foster child. In Indiana, when the child is first removed from their home, a flat $200 is available for the first 60 days to cover the cost of new clothes.
A $300 personal allowance is available to every foster family after the foster child has been in their home at least eight days. The personal allowance is designed to cover the cost of musical instruments, electronics, sporting equipment, or something needed for a special occasion, such as the prom. The flat per diem rate for foster care varies from $20.87 a day for a child ages 0-4, to $22.66 per day for a child ages 5-13, to $26.15 per day for a child ages 14-18. Per diem rates increase should the foster child need services or be in therapeutic foster care. With regards to insurance, all medical and dental expenses are covered by Medicaid and each child will have their own Medicaid card.
In addition to financial support, foster families can expect to work with a team of professionals to support their foster child. Indiana case managers are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so foster families should not hesitate to reach out if they need help. Each country organizes its own support groups, and foster families should be encouraged to seek out these events as well. Interested in local attractions? According to the Indiana DCS, Marengo Cave and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis both provide special learning opportunities for in-state foster families.
Want to find out more about foster parent Indiana? Visit the Indiana Department of Child Services to learn how to make a difference today.