Pennsylvania is more than just the land of chocolate and cheesesteak. With its low crime and wooded landscape, it is also a great place to raise a child.
If you have ever considered foster parenting in PA, now is a great time to get started. There are currently between 13,000 and 15,000 children in foster care in Pennsylvania. There is a real need for resource families to provide love and support while children are going through important transitions.
Who Can Foster in PA?
If you are a Pennsylvanian resident who is interested in foster care, you may not think you have what it takes to be a foster parent. And you may be wrong.
You do not need to be married, wealthy, or a homeowner to become a foster parent. You do, however, need to be at least 21 years old and able to care for children. You will have to pass a background check and a medical exam.
To become a foster parent, you can be married, divorced, widowed, single, or in a partnership. You can be a working parent or a parent with a disability. It is perfectly okay to have a modest income, but you must be able to support yourself financially. At least one parent in the household should have a flexible working schedule. Foster children should not be spending hours a day in daycare. If you have pets, they should like children and be vaccinated.
You must have a dependable car and participate in at least six hours of training a year. You will learn about first aid, CPR, and child growth and development. You will practice techniques for disciplining children who have been abused and neglected. Continuing classes may be in subjects like sexual abuse, substance abuse, or family fun.
In order to become a Pennsylvania foster parent, you do not need to be perfect. You do, however, need to be flexible and willing to advocate for your child’s needs in school, counseling, and the medical community. You should have the time and energy to give your child the attention they need.
Your main purpose as a foster parent is to provide mental and emotional support to children during times of transition. Your placement can last anywhere from two days to a lifetime.
If reunification with birth parents or relatives is not possible, your child may become available for adoption. In fact, according to Adoption.org, 59 percent of non-stepparent U.S. adoptions are through the child welfare system! There are currently over 100,000 children in foster care who are waiting for a permanent home.
Who Is Available For Foster Care in Pennsylvania?
More than 1,000 children will “age out” of the Pennsylvania welfare system each year. Many are left with no financial resources and a limited education. Half of them will not be able to find a job, and a quarter of them will experience homelessness, mental health issues, or substance abuse problems.
A lasting relationship with a caring adult could mean the difference between failure and success in your foster child’s life. Your role as a foster parent is not just to meet a child’s basic needs. You will provide the emotional stability, listening ear, and support that a child desperately needs to realize their goals and dreams in the future.
How Can I Begin Foster Parenting in PA?
In order to attend an information session that will help you learn how to become a foster parent, contact the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network, also known as SWAN. They can help you find a qualified agency in your county to help you begin your journey.
You are allowed to make specifications on age, gender, and background before you begin fostering a child. While it is important to be flexible, know that your wishes will be respected, and your agency will try to match you with a child who will be a good fit for your home.
Preparing Your Home For Foster Parenting in PA
Your home must be inspected annually if you wish to maintain your foster parent certification. It must have at least one flush toilet, a working heating system, and a working phone. There should be no areas that are unsuitable for children, such as an unfinished basement, attic, or hallway.
Each child must have their own bed with a comfortable blanket, clean linens, and pillows. Children ages 5 and older of opposite genders cannot share a bedroom.
If you are adopting children under 5, it is very important that any potentially hazardous substances be stored out of their reach. You should also “baby-proof” your home by covering outlets with safety caps. There should be fire extinguishers on each level of your house. Your drinking water needs to be safe, and electrical wires must be concealed. Emergency telephone numbers should be displayed in an obvious location.
Your home does not need to be a palace if you want to foster children. It doesn’t need to be spotless, either. It should, however, be a warm, welcoming place that is equipped to meet the basic needs of children.
Be sure to have sanitary necessities like toothpaste, hairbrushes, and changes of clothes available. Before your child comes to live with you, get a few outfits in different sizes that are hand-me-downs or returnable. Your child may be shorter or taller than you were expecting them to be.
Once your child comes to live with you, be prepared for a big growth spurt! Allow your child to try different healthy foods, and don’t force them to eat things they don’t like. You will eventually find nutritious meals that your child enjoys if you keep trying. A basket of “healthy” snacks like sealed bags of nuts and dried fruits in your child’s room will help them to know that food will not be scarce in your home. This will help prevent “hoarding” during the early months. Children from deprived backgrounds may be tempted to bring food to bed with them because they are afraid it won’t be available in the morning.
Know that disciplining your child will likely be a gradual process. Focus on the biggest problems first. You will need to be consistent in enforcing consequences such as withdrawal of privileges like screen time. Physical punishment is not permitted. Your child should know that they are cared for no matter what they do.
Financial Assistance For Foster Parenting in PA
Parents who foster are expected to prove that they are able to meet their own financial needs. However, the state will help you support the child’s needs with an average daily stipend of approximately $19 to $24 a day. There is also a standard weekly allowance for foster parents to care for their children. These will vary from county to county.
In Monroe County, you may be supplied with around $600 per child per month for their clothing, although it may vary for other counties in Pennsylvania. You may also be given financial assistance for birthday or holiday gifts, long distance phone calls, haircuts, or school pictures. Foster children will be eligible for free medical care through Medicaid.
You may be reimbursed some costs for agency-related travel and necessary appointments. Subsidized childcare services are also available if you meet the work requirement. You may, however, be placed on the waiting list.
How To Be A Great Foster Parent
The best foster parents are patient and flexible. They are good listeners and able to empathize with their children.
Your child’s background may involve abuse and unimaginable pain. It is important that you are there to validate your child’s feelings and encourage them to develop their talents. One caring adult can make an impressive difference in a child’s life.
You should be able to remain calm and focused while working with birth parents, social workers, and schools. A sense of humor and ability to see the “big picture” will give you the strength to deal with the challenging parts of foster parenting.
Great foster parents are not lone rangers. They have a network of supportive friends, family, or religious organizations that can help them immediately if need be. You will need a lot of rest and encouragement yourself if you need to be strong for someone else. Encourage your child to become a part of a community that loves and supports them as much as you do.
Adopting Through Foster Care
There are children in foster care in Pennsylvania who are already available for adoption. They are usually over the age of 5, a part of a sibling group that needs to be adopted together, or a part of a racial or ethnic group that exits the system more slowly. Many of these children have emotional or physical challenges.
If you wish to adopt a child under 5 years of age through foster care, you may need to foster the child first. This does not mean that adopting them will be impossible. In fact, over half of the children adopted through child welfare enter the system when they are under the age of 3. Your social worker may be able to help you identify children who are more likely to become available for adoption in the future. They will not, however, be able to guarantee that parental rights will be terminated.
Your foster care adoption will most likely not cost more than $2,500, including home study and legal fees. If your child is over the age of 10, a part of a sibling group, or at least moderately challenged physically or mentally, the state of Pennsylvania may pay these fees up front for you. If you adopt a child from foster care in another state, the fees may be reimbursed after the adoption is complete.
If you do end up paying your foster care adoption fees out of pocket, there is a national adoption tax credit of $14,080 per child that will more than help you recover any adoption-related expenses after the adoption is finalized.
Requirements To Adopt
In order to adopt through foster care, you will need a valid home study. Your social worker will make sure that your home is a safe, caring environment where a child can be raised. You can talk about your own childhood, as well as your wishes in terms of the age and gender of the child you are hoping to adopt. If you are married, your social worker may want to talk about the stability of your marriage. If you are single, they may inquire about your support network of friends and family.
If you wish to adopt through foster care, you will need to prove that you are physically healthy and financially stable. You will need to supply proof that you can adequately provide for the needs of a child. You will also be required to submit to a criminal background check.
If you are adopting a child who is over 5 years old, a part of a sibling group, or a member of an ethnic or racial group that exits the system at a slower rate, you may be eligible for post-adoption assistance payments. These monthly payments may cover medical expenses and counseling. Final decisions regarding post-adoption assistance are made by county and child youth agencies.
Your child will continue receiving healthcare in the form of Medicaid until they are 18, or, in some cases, 21 years old. The states of Pennsylvania also offers academic scholarships and grants for college to children who have been in the child welfare system.
Foster Parenting in PA
Foster parenting is an adventure that will have you experiencing challenges and rewards like never before. A calm commitment to make it work, as well as a strong support network, can make you the difference that changes a child’s life forever.