If you’re hoping to become a foster parent in North Carolina, be sure that there are plenty of foster kids looking for safe and loving foster families! According to an article on North Carolina’s foster care system, “The number of North Carolina children in foster care has increased more than 25 percent in the past five years, leading officials to call it a ‘state of crisis.’” In fact, President and CEO Brian Maness of Children’s Home Society of North Carolina, confirms that “foster care has been growing at an alarming rate with a shortage of permanent, safe and loving homes for adoptable children.”

Before you begin your journey into becoming a foster parent NC, you should first take some time to better understand what foster care is, how to become a foster parent, and everything you need to know about being a foster family and what it may mean for your family.

What is Foster Care?

According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System’s 2018 FY report, there are over 400,000 children in the United States foster care system. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption pegs the number of children currently waiting to be adopted from foster care at over 125,000.

“Foster care (also known as out-of-home care) is a temporary service provided by states for children who cannot live with their families. Children in foster care may live with relatives or with unrelated foster parents. Foster care can refer to placement settings such as group homes, residential care facilities, emergency shelters, and supervised independent living,” per the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

According to the AFCARS report, children exiting foster care during FY 2018 had been in foster care for a media of over a year. A little less than 50 percent of kids exiting foster care during FY 2018 were reunified with their parent or their primary caretaker and 25 percent were adopted.

Who Are the Waiting Children in NC?

Children in the United States foster care system range in age from infants to 21 years old. The median age of a child in the United States foster care system is more than 7 years old, and there are slightly more males than females, according to the AFCARS report. Children in foster care are of varying ethnicities and a majority of the children in foster care throughout the U.S. are placed in relative or non-relative foster homes while the other thousands of children are in group homes, institutions, or other places. Many children are able to reunify with their family but there are also many who cannot.

According to the AFCARS FY 2018 state data report, there are over 10,000 kids in foster care in North Carolina. Over 2,000 of those kids are waiting to be adopted and over 1,000 kids in NC are waiting to be adopted with their parental rights already terminated.

As in adoption, babies and young children are often the focus of foster parents; however, there are other children who need homes too.

Similarly to adoption, babies and younger children are often the focus of families interested in becoming foster parents. With that in mind, it is important to note that special needs children and teens are in desperate need of families and in many cases, permanent homes before they age out of the system.

Many children in foster care have special needs and may be waiting to be adopted. According to an Adoption.com article on special needs, “Special needs adoption encompasses quite a range of issues from experiencing a medically correctable/curable condition, to the child’s age (most older child adoptions fall into the special needs category), to being a member of a sibling group, to transracial or intercultural adoption, to having spent any amount of time in an orphanage or other institutional-type setting.”

The North Carolina Mecklenburg Heart Gallery has photolistings available of children in the North Carolina foster care system who need a forever family and are available for adoption. You can also go to the Heart Gallery of America website to find other photolisting websites for North Carolina children.

Aging Out

Statistics posted on The National Foster Youth Institute reveal that many of the nearly 23,000 kids who age out of the system each year have nowhere to turn to and that 20 percent will become instantly homeless.

Sadly, many of these children entered the foster care system as a result of being removed from a bad situation only to be moved around and eventually left unprepared to fend for themselves. In fact, according to the website, “twenty-five percent of children who age out of the foster care system still suffer from the direct effects of PTSD and there is less than a 3% chance for children who have aged out of foster care to earn a college degree at any point in their life,” greatly limiting their job prospects and potential to live independently with little to no social support.

Special Needs

You can imagine that the need for foster families interested in and willing to accept special needs children with the possibility of adoption is great as is the amount of love and attention needed to take care of these special children. And while the reward for parenting a special needs child can be as great as the challenges, foster parents should consider how this will impact their family and become familiar with all that comes with the territory, including finding the necessary resources and support that will be needed for the short-term and may be needed for long-term scenarios.

Special needs are designated on a state-by-state basis and often include any child who at the time of adoptive placement has been in the care of a public or private agency or individual other than the legal or biological parent for more than 24 consecutive months; a child with a physical, mental, or emotional disability as validated by a licensed physician or psychologist; as well as children who are part of a sibling group of two or more who have been placed in the same foster home.

What is a Foster Parent?

Before you learn how to become a foster parent NC, it’s important to take some time to evaluate your life and how fostering a child will change not just life as you know it, but impact the life of a child in great need of safety, security, and stability. Becoming a foster parent requires you to exhibit compassion, understanding, love, patience, and the willingness to learn things about fostering and/or adopting that you do not know. Many foster parents have shared that they were not prepared for the amount of love that they experienced as bonding and trust grew with their foster child.

Foster parenting is different than traditional parenting for obvious and more complex reasons.

Making sure that you are consistent and have routine will play a large role in ensuring a successful fostering experience. As an Adoption.com article on foster parenting in Georgia states, “You can imagine that most children in foster care have experienced or witnessed trauma of some sort. Well-meaning foster parents need to recognize that and while you may think being easy-going or less regimented is being kind to a child who is struggling as a result of a traumatic experience, you will be doing a disservice to a child who is most likely craving the very structure that you can provide.

“As you develop a relationship with your foster child, your routine may change, but providing stability should remain steady.”

Foster Care Requirements for Foster Parent NC

Having parenting experience is not a requirement to become a foster parent in NC, but being willing to open your home and heart is. Of all of the technical requirements that potential foster parents need to consider, probably the most important one is to be ready to serve as a strong support system for a child who will need your love, guidance, and encouragement—be it for the short-term or long-term.

The North Carolina DHHS website states that potential foster parents need to be and/or complete:

 - At least 21 years old

- Single, married, divorced, or widowed

- Own or rent your home

- A criminal background check completed, including fingerprints

- Complete mutual home assessment (or MHA) for foster home licensing

- Training and be licensed as a foster parent

As part of your application, you can expect to provide:

 - Your contact information

- Recent employers and residences

- Information about your marriage and/or previous marriage

- Information about your finances

- Names and locations of family members

There may also be additional requirements you need to meet depending on the county and your agency so make sure to check with them. Once you determine whether or not you are ready and prepared to meet and complete the requirements to foster, you will be ready to begin working with a caseworker to get started on your paperwork and training.

A Little More About Mutual Home Assessments

You can learn more about what to expect as you prepare for your assessment here and how it’s different than a pre-placement assessment, which is the formal written assessment required in North Carolina to be approved as an adoptive family.

Similar to a home study, according to Fostering Perspectives, “The assessment process for both an MHA and a PPA involves a significant amount of physical and emotional investment for a family and can sometimes feel invasive. If you ever have questions regarding the information being requested of your family, please ask your social worker to explain the reasoning behind the request. This will not only answer your questions, but allow for open communication and increased partnership with your agency.

“The ultimate goal of an MHA or PPA is for you and the social worker to assess the impact of placing a child in your home, for both that child as well as your family. To make that assessment, social workers must be able to capture in writing a realistic representation of your family dynamics, structure, and function.”

Training to Foster (TIPS-MAPP)

Prospective foster parents will need to complete training in order to be considered. You will need to attend Trauma-Informed Partnering for Safety and Permanence/Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting training for approximately 30 hours.

Through TIPS-MAPP,  you will have an opportunity to meet other foster families and learn from each other pre- and post-placement.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Foster Parent NC?

Prospective foster families may choose to work with their county department of social services. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, most agencies will complete the pre-placement assessment for free if the family is adopting a special needs child from the NC foster care system. Some county agencies may refer families to private agencies to complete the pre-placement assessment and those agencies may or may not charge to complete it.

You should contact agencies in your area to discuss all fees and possible adoption expenses.

How Long Will I Wait?

Once your application has been approved, your caseworker can begin to help you search for an appropriate match within the foster care system. Matching policies vary state-to-state. As a result, the timelines and specific processes agencies use in matching children with families may vary widely.

Placement – Now What?

Once you have been matched and you officially become a foster family you’ll finally be able to clear your desk of paperwork and red tape and get to the heart of the matter—parenting. If you thought the process leading up to becoming a foster parent in NC was difficult, now you’ll be hit with the reality that is raising a child! You will need to prepare for an uncertain and sometimes bumpy adjustment period.

Those families you met in your training classes? Make sure to touch base with them now to share your experience and learn from theirs. Your internet searches may change now from how to become a foster parent to “I’m a foster parent, now what?” And don’t forget to reach out to your circle of family and friends for support. There is no shame in asking for help—all families do.

Additionally, you will want to prepare your home so that it is welcoming for your foster child. It should be as move-in ready as possible and modified, if needed, to accommodate special needs. This can be a traumatic experience for a child. Learn some of his/her likes and dislikes—from favorite colors to favorite toys to having some favorite shows on hand—you can make the transition that much easier.

Support for Foster Parents NC

It’s critical for you, as foster parents, to do your research in order to find medical service providers in your community who are familiar with foster children and the special circumstances that come with the territory. Make sure to decide whether or not to keep or change your foster child’s current providers ahead of time so that when the time comes, your resources are in place.

Reach out to your caseworker as well as your foster child’s school and educational providers if he/she will be changing districts in order to make the transition a smoother one.

Family Resource Centers provide family support services to foster families and are provided for all family members. You can contact your local Department of Social Services to find an FRC near you.

Family Support Network support and give information to the families who have and are taking care of children with special needs, plus, they do it without cost to the families. Although you should talk to them to make sure you qualify.

Foster to Adopt

Foster children find themselves requiring adoptive families when their birth parents have their rights terminated. Many children in need of an adoptive family have special needs or are school-aged. Adoption.com’s Foster and Adoption page offers a wide range of helpful information for parents interested in adopting a foster child, including a Waiting Child Photolisting, “Adopting from Foster Care Guide,” and information on forms, grants, and Special Needs and Attachment forums.

Ready to become a foster parent NC?

Are you ready to find out more about becoming a licensed foster parent? Check out Adoption.com’s Guide to Becoming a Foster Parent today to see how you can “make a lasting difference in a child’s life.”