Every child needs and deserves a home in which to experience a family who will love and care for them. Every child longs to have a mom or a dad around to tuck them in at night or to cheer them on from the bleachers. And to be there for there to experience the moments kids love to share with a caring adult—something as simple as learning how to tie a shoe to baking a cake together (and stealing a lick of batter) to more complex life-fixes like learning how to change a flat tire (planned or unplanned). Kids also long to have someone there for them for the not-so-fun firsts or seconds or thirds, too. Like figuring out how to deal with a bully at the playground, solving an impossible math problem, or dealing with a health issue that is too scary for a child to understand or manage on his own.

Deciding to become a foster parent to a child who is in the custody of foster care is one way that you can make a huge difference in the life of a child who is experiencing times of uncertainty and crisis. Foster care is typically a last resort and no fault of the child. Foster kids need love, security, and the “normalcy” of living in a home environment.

It is important for prospective parents to understand that every state has its own fostering guidelines and families considering fostering in PA should plan to do their research (both online and off), reach out to local resources, and ask themselves some necessary soul-searching questions before pressing GO and getting started.

What is Foster Care?

The Child Information Gateway defines foster care, also known as out-of-home care, as “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 also refer to placement settings such as group homes, residential care facilities, emergency shelters, and supervised independent living.”

The different types of foster parenting include:

 - Short-term care

- Long-term care

- Respite care

- Emergency or urgent care

- Kinship care

- Therapeutic or treatment foster care

- Foster-to-adopt care

The goal of foster care is to reunite the child with his family (known as reunification) if that is an option that has been proven to be in the best interest of the child and the birth family has proven its ability to provide a safe, healthy, and nurturing environment.

The Adoption.org article, “What is Reunification” provides some information and resources concerning what can be a complicated part of the foster care system. As stated in the article, and according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, reunification is “when children must be removed from their families to ensure their safety, the first goal is to reunite them with their families as soon as possible. Child welfare agencies implement multifaceted strategies that build on family strengths and address concerns. Such strategies may include family engagement, maintaining family and cultural connections, connecting families to evidence-based services, regular and frequent visits among family members and with the worker, and parent education, among others. Returning children home often requires intensive, family-centered services to support a safe and stable family.”

Who is in Foster Care?

According to this Adoption.org article, “In the United States, more than 400,000 children, from newborns to 18-year-olds, living in foster care on any given day, 100,000 of whom are eligible and waiting to be adopted,” there is no doubt that there is a need for foster families. According to the Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network, there are about 15,000 children living in temporary foster care in Pennsylvania. Foster kids come from all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

You can view waiting children in PA by clicking here or here.

Special Needs and Teens

While the focus is oftentimes on infants and young children, special needs children and teens are in desperate need of foster families and, in many cases, permanent homes before they age out of the system. Pennsylvania currently has more than 2,500 children who are waiting to be adopted. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, more than 23,000 children are estimated to age out of foster care each year—20 percent of whom become instantly homeless.

The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services defines special needs children in Georgia foster care (although a lot of this definition can be applied elsewhere) as: ”A child who 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 physical, mental, or emotional disability, as validated by a licensed physician or psychologist. A child who is a member of a sibling group of 2 or more placed in the same home (for adoption)

What Does Fostering in PA Look Like?

Prospective families will work with a foster care agency in Pennsylvania to complete the mandatory screening process, be matched with a child in need, and receive support throughout the process. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, both public and private foster care agencies, as well as the Pennsylvania State Resource Family Association, recruit foster parents to provide these services for children. Each foster care agency accepts applications from individuals interested in becoming foster parents. Pennsylvania law limits the number of children under 18 in a foster home to six, including all children residing in the house (birth, adoptive, or foster).

Fast Facts About Fostering in PA

The Pennsylvania State Resource Family Association provides the following facts about fostering in PA:

 - In 2013, over 8,000 youth 13 and older lived in the foster care system in PA.

- “On average, 1,100 PA youth ‘age out’ of foster care or leave the system at 18 or older.

- “One in four PA youth who “age out” of the system, experience homelessness, struggle with mental health challenges such as depression, substance abuse and anxiety disorders, with nearly 1 in 4 youth having been arrested since leaving care.

- “Young PA women in foster care are two and a half times more likely to become pregnant by 19, than young women were not in foster care.

- “Nearly half of PA foster care youth haven’t found a job four years after leaving the system and struggle to pay bills. Nearly half who ‘age out’ will not complete high school and are twice as likely to drop out.”

Requirements to Foster in PA

According to the Pennsylvania State Resource Family Association, for the child’s safety, prospective foster families will undergo an extensive background check, including a criminal background check and child abuse clearance on everyone in your home who is 14 years old and over. Married couples and single parents are eligible to foster in Pennsylvania. Foster families do not need to be well-off financially; however, financial stability will be considered as part of the home approval process. Your home’s physical features will also be evaluated in order to make sure it is a safe place with space for a child.

Other factors are also important:

 - Must be at least 21 years of age.

- “Ability to provide care, nurturing and supervision for the child

- “Demonstration of an emotionally stable environment

- “Ties with family, friends and community

- “Relationship with own children…

- “Ability to meet the special needs of the child”

Are You Ready to Become a Foster Parent?

According to the “How to Become a Foster Parent in GA” article, before fostering in PA, you need to make sure you are actually ready to become a foster parent to a child. Prospective foster parents need to “exhibit love, compassion, patience, understanding, and be willing to accept and learn the parts about fostering (and possibly adoption) that you do not [yet] know.” You should also understand that there is a lot that you don’t know and that fostering can and will be a learn-as-you-go situation—there is no one-size-fits-all scenario when it comes to parenting of any kind!

Check out Adoption.com’s Guide to Becoming a Foster Parent for steps that all prospective foster parents should look at.

According to the “How to Become a Foster Parent in GA” article, you should also realize and respect that foster parenting is different than traditional parenting. Ensuring that you parent consistently and take the time to understand the importance of routine will play a huge role in successful fostering. It goes without saying that most children in foster care have experienced or witnessed trauma of some sort, whether that be abuse, neglect, or having witnessed violence of any kind.

Training

Anyone interested in becoming a foster parent in PA should be prepared to complete mandatory training ahead of officially being considered as a match for a child who needs temporary care. Interested parents should visit The University of Pittsburgh, School Of Social Work website, and begin by completing a simple demographics form there by clicking here. In addition, you can check out the required training on the Resource Center News and Training/Event Updates page. Training is meant to provide parents with a complete understanding of what to expect, tools and resources on how to handle various scenarios, as well as how to best prepare for becoming a foster family.

Foster Support

Fostering in PA, or anywhere else for that matter, requires some expected support from family, friends, professionals, and others who will be able to recognize and relate to what you’re going through. Foster parents need a parental support group, respite, or babysitters. They may also seek family support groups.

Many states, including PA, have local foster parent associations that meet regularly. The Pennsylvania State Resource Family Association, for instance, works supportively with foster, adoptive, and kinship families, as well as local foster parent associations and agencies who care for the children they serve. You can visit the PSRFA website at www.psrfa.org or call PSRFA at 800-951-5151.

Expectations of Foster Kids

Foster kids should be encouraged to be themselves in their foster home. It’s important that foster kids participate in their new family environment, are encouraged to openly share their thoughts and feelings, and participate in meetings and hearings as needed. Foster kids should participate in activities and attend school regularly (depending on age, of course). They should be made to feel comfortable in reaching out for help and knowing that they, too, can participate in making decisions about their lives.

What Does Fostering in PA Cost?

Fostering is not a job or an income; however, foster parents in PA are reimbursed for the cost of caring for a foster child. Health care costs are generally covered as well. This money is provided to cover basic expenses such as food, clothing, shelter, transportation, recreation, and allowance. Foster parents are not responsible for a foster child’s medical costs.

What’s more important than finances is that foster families are willing to spend their time and offer unconditional love and caring.

For families considering foster to adopt, where private and international adoptions can range from $30,000 to $60,000, adopting children from foster care is virtually free. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, federal and state assistance programs are available during and after the adoption process. Many states offer different types of assistance, so it’s important to research your state. Additionally, families can typically recoup most or all adoption-related expenses after finalization through the federal Adoption Tax Credit. The Adoption Assistance Program also provides financial assistance for eligible adoptive children with special needs.

Getting Started

For more information on how to become a foster parent in PA or to get started on your journey today, visit the Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption and Network here and make sure to visit Adoption.com’s foster and adoption page here.

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