What do the Coyotes, the Suns, the Diamondbacks, and the Cardinals all have in common? They are all sports teams in Arizona! Arizona could be the perfect place to raise kids because of the sunny days, dry weather, and family-friendly activities available throughout the state. It is also a great place to become a foster parent! In Arizona, there are about 15,000 foster kids but only about 4,500 foster parents, according to CASA of AZ and the Child Welfare Report. Foster children in Arizona need you! If you are wondering about how to become a foster parent in AZ, keep reading!
Statistics on Foster Care
Nationwide, there are about 400,000 children in the U.S. who are in foster care. Arizona has about 15,000 those foster children. This represents children in foster homes, group homes, kinship homes, and residential treatment facilities. Not all of these children remain in foster care for long. The average amount of time a child remains in foster care is about a year and a half, but the average amount of time a person stays a foster parent is only a year. And sometimes, children return to foster care after they return home. Arizona has only about 4,500 foster parents. Any way you slice it, Arizona needs more foster parents!
How do children come into care?
Children come into foster care, through no fault of their own, due to child abuse, neglect, or abandonment. These kiddos are not in foster care because they are “bad kids” but rather because their parents were not appropriate caregivers and put their own children in harm’s way. Foster care is supposed to be a temporary safety net for children until their parents have recovered or have been rehabilitated. When this happens, a child is reunited with their parents. Many children are reunited with their parents in Arizona. The rest who are not reunited may be adopted, enter guardianship, or enter independent living.
What is a foster parent?
A foster parent is a person who has been licensed in the State of Arizona to care for foster children. They promise to supply room and board and to make the foster child a part of their family. They provide support to the child to care for their physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. They are, for all intents and purposes, the child’s parent, temporarily, until the child is reunited, or moves into another status of permanency such as adoption, guardianship, or independent living. A foster parent does get reimbursed for their services in the form of a stipend that goes toward the care of the child. Foster parents also have access to resources to enhance their care for the child such as training, support groups, and items needed for the child.
What is the foster care licensing process?
When wondering about how to become a foster parent in AZ, you must first start by becoming licensed. This is guided by the Department of Child Safety and approved by the Office of Licensing and Regulation. The entire process of becoming a foster parent in Arizona is a lengthy one, taking between four months to a year to become licensed or more. This will depend on several factors including how quickly you can meet the requirements, how quickly you can complete the paperwork, and how quickly your agency can process the paperwork. Again, the process can take as little as four months, but as long as a year or more.
Here is the process:
Pre-licensing. Before you even start the process, there are some steps you must complete. First, you must complete an Orientation. This can be done in a group setting or the comfort of your own home through OLR’s website. This orientation will give you an overview of what to expect as a foster parent. Second, you must choose a foster care licensing agency. These agencies contract with the state to license individuals who pursue foster care and are learning how to become foster parents in AZ. Which agency you choose depends on what type of child you wish to care for. For example, some agencies care for the developmentally disabled; those that provide therapeutic care for youth who have behavioral issues; and those that care for youth coming out of a juvenile detention facility. There are also faith-based agencies and those that focus on foster care adoption.
The Licensing Process. Your agency will then have to compile all of their findings into a report called a home study which is submitted to the state for approval. Why is the process so long? Think of it this way: if your child was taken into CPS custody, wouldn’t you want to know all there is about the family that is caring for them? DCS and your agency do. It’s best to provide safe, caring, and consistent homes that make the foster child a part of the family and promote the child’s well-being. Here is what goes into a foster care licensing home study.
1. Background checks. Foster children are removed from the custody of their parents due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. To place them in a home without regard to the background of each household member would be reckless. Foster care agencies want to ensure that the new home children are being placed in is absolutely safe. Therefore, there are at least five checks each agency must perform:
a. Fingerprint Clearance Cards. Each applicant to foster care must be fingerprinted. The service that Arizona uses is called Fieldprint. This is a free service where the applicant is fingerprinted and sent to a national database that checks the criminal history of each applicant and additional household member. If the applicant is denied, a letter will be sent to the applicant detailing what charges appeared on their record. Depending on the charge, an applicant may be able to appeal.
b. Criminal History Self Disclosure. This is an affidavit that needs to be notarized, affirming that you have no criminal history. If you do have a criminal history, you need to indicate it on the form. Failure to disclose criminal history may be grounds for denial of a license. Having a criminal history does not necessarily exclude you from becoming a foster parent; it depends on the charge. But it does need to be disclosed.
c. Child Protective Services Check. This check verifies any substantiated history with DCS in Arizona. If you have lived outside of Arizona in the past five years, you may be required to also submit an “Adam Walsh” form which is then forwarded to the state in which you resided.
d. Driving Record. Next, your agency will be required to perform a driving records check on you. Generally, moving violations, parking tickets, DUIs, etc., are checked. If you have restrictions on your driving record, it needs to be disclosed and you may not be able to transport foster children if this is the case. Having a valid driver’s license is not required of each foster parent, but having access to reliable transportation, as in public transportation, is required.
e. Sex Offender Registry. Lastly, your agency will be required to do a check on registered sex offenders in your area. It is important to know if there are any in your neighborhood.
2. Physician Statements. In Arizona, there are no age limits to being a foster parent. However, there are health requirements. Arizona requires all caregivers to pass a physician statement and to submit a health self-disclosure. Within these documents, your medical history and medications are listed as well as questions regarding drug abuse. These questions are important because your agency needs to determine whether you are physically capable of caring for a child.
3. Foster Parent College Training. Even though you may have experience as a parent or grandparent, you will still need to arm yourself with information on foster parenting. Caring for a foster child is vastly different from caring for your own biological child. If you are wondering how to become a foster parent in AZ, you may need to complete a 30-hour pre-service training called Foster Parent College.
FPC training gives a broad overview of the foster care experience. Within this training, you will learn about foster care and adoption; abuse and neglect; sexual abuse; trauma; attachment; the Child Welfare Team, and other topics that may be necessary to care for a foster child. FPC classes are a hybrid of online and classroom curriculum. Your agency may assign you to a class, or in some cases, have a trainer conduct a one-on-one session with you in the comfort of your own home. In any event, FPC will help to prepare you for your foster care journey.
4. Life Safety Inspection. Your home will have to be inspected, for your house or apartment to become a licensed Arizona foster home. You won’t necessarily get the “white glove test” but the goal is to ensure health and safety. The state inspector from OLR will be looking for the following: that all firearms are trigger-locked, unloaded, and stored in a gun safe; that pools and spas have fencing and meet specifications; that toxins are locked; that medications are locked; that hot water is at the proper temperature; and other requirements, as well. Your agency may provide you with a guidebook that will detail how to get prepared. Your agency may also conduct a pre-inspection or “mock” inspection before the official OLR inspection to determine any deficiencies.
5. Family Interviews. Everyone in your home, ages 5 and above will need to be interviewed. The questions for the adults will be things such as: how were you raised? How were you disciplined? What were your earliest memories? What traumatic event did you experience as a child? Also, how does your current family express love, joy, and affection? How would you discipline a foster child? Interview questions a child may receive are: what are your favorite subjects in school? What are some of your chores? What does your family do for fun? What happens in your home when someone gets into trouble? What do you think about having a new foster brother or foster sister? These questions may seem invasive, but it is one of the ways your agency can use to evaluate whether your family is a good fit for a foster child.
6. References. Every applicant to foster care needs to provide at least five references to their foster care agency. These references can be anyone including friends, relatives (no more than three), co-workers, neighbors, and clergy. They may be asked about your character, lifestyle, and experience with children. These references will be kept confidential, however, they will be reviewed by OLR to determine your qualifications to care for foster children.
7. Document collection. Paperwork. Yuch! No one likes paperwork. But this all necessary to determine your home is safe. Some of the required documents that you need to submit are the following: birth certificates, marriage certificate, divorce decree, rabies verification (if you have a pet), child support verification, and vehicle information, just to name a few. If you are interested in how to become a foster parent in AZ, it may be a good thing to start tracking these things down.
After you have completed the home study process including all of the items above, you may now officially be an Arizona foster parent! Congratulations! Your agency will issue you a copy of your license which will outline the following parameters: population (how many children you can care for at one time), gender (male or female), and service (regular, therapeutic, developmental, kinship, or respite).
You will then be placed on a list to be matched with a child who needs a home. In many cases, calls for placement are emergency calls and can come at any time. Therefore, you will need to be ready! Once you are placed with a child, your agency may provide you with the supports you need and DCS may reimburse for such as a clothing check, room, and board. The child will also receive a form of Medicaid to provide for dental and medical needs.
Don’t let the process of foster care licensing scare you! It does look rather daunting on paper, however, when you compare it to the joy of caring for a foster child, it is well worth it. Just think of it this way: the process is a small price to pay for providing a stable, loving home for as long as it takes! You are truly making a difference in the life of a child! Start shopping for foster care licensing agencies now and choose which one you think you can best work with!
Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.