Foster care is the temporary arrangement through which a child is removed from their birth family or guardian’s home and is placed in another home with unrelated foster parent(s) or relatives. When a child is removed from their home, due to abuse or neglect, a social worker will file a petition in juvenile court requesting that the court become involved in the future placement of the child. The parents/guardians of the child will be given notice of these proceedings. In the interim, the child is placed in foster care until the court can determine whether the child should remain within temporary care or return to their parent/guardian’s home. In the United States, there are roughly 433,000 children in the foster care system on any given day. In 2017, the last date for which data is available, more than 690,000 children spent time in the U.S. foster care system. Ever wonder how to become a foster parent in California? Here’s what you need to know:
The first step to becoming a foster parent is to consider if foster care is right for you and your family. To be a foster parent requires a strong support system of family and friends and flexibility in your schedule. You must be willing to have social workers in and out of your home, monitor how the child is adjusting, and enter into a partnership with those specialists for the good of the child. You must also be willing to have a relationship with the foster child’s biological family and/or guardians and to do everything you can to promote those relationships. If you currently have children in your home, be sure to ask them how they feel about fostering. Foster care not only affects the foster child and the foster parent, but it also impacts the whole family dynamic.
It should be recognized too, that foster care is not a permanent solution. The goal of any foster program is family reunification whenever possible. It can be hard to say goodbye to a child but that does not mean you have to disappear from that child’s life. But most importantly, becoming a foster parent means opening not just your home but your heart. It can be hard work but also extremely rewarding. Interested in taking the next step? Here is how to become a foster parent in California from initial application to placement.
First, you will need to assess if you can be a foster parent. In the state of California, interested foster parents must be at least 18 years old. That said, most social workers like for prospective foster parents to be at least 25 years old. There is no maximum age to be a foster parent. Foster parents may be married, single, or unmarried in a long, stable relationship. You must have a safely operating vehicle that is insured to be able to take the foster child to and from appointments. You must also have a working phone service. Prospective foster parents may live in a house or an apartment but each child must have his or her own bed and no more than two children may share a room. Children over the age of 5 may not share a room unless the other occupant is of the same gender. You must have a job and be able to provide for the foster child. In a two-person household, it is alright for both parents to work outside the home provided the foster child is over the age of 5. Foster children under the age of 5 will be required to have an at-home parent available. Infants and toddlers will be required to have full-time at-home parent care. No more than six children may live in the home, including the foster child.
Foster care in California is run by the California Department of Social Services. The California Department of Social Services oversees all 58 counties in California and lists a high percentage of African American and Latino children in the system and expresses a need for families for children of all ages with varying degrees of needs. Some children stay in the California foster care system a matter of months and other children stay for years at a time. Families interested in learning how to become a foster parent in California will first need to visit the California Department of Social Services page to determine the exact point of contact for the county in which the family currently resides. If you live in one county but would like to be a resource family for a child from another county then you will need to work with a Foster Family Agency to facilitate placement.
Once you determine the point of contact for your county, you will need to attend a foster care orientation. Orientations occur periodically throughout the year and interested families will need to check with their counties for current schedules. Following the orientation, families will next complete an online Resource Family Application. Upon the completion of the application, prospective foster parents will be fingerprinted and have a background check conducted to ensure no history of crime (felonies), child abuse, or neglect has occurred. Additionally, some counties require a health screening and a TB test. Prospective foster parents should also expect to be trained in CPR and First Aid if they are not already certified.
At the same time as you are working to complete your initial background checks and screenings, prospective foster parents will attend a pre-approval training program called the Resource Family Approval program, or RFA. The RFA is a statewide approval process that provides information, training, and networks of support for foster parents. The 12 hours of training are designed not only to provide material on how to become a foster parent in California but also to educate prospective foster parents on the needs of the children in foster care and the challenges of foster care. An additional 8-10 hours of training may be required depending on the county in which you currently reside.
Following the conclusion of the RFA program, families will need to complete a home study. The home study documents will consist of verification of employment, a list of current assets, mortgage or rent information, references, DMV records, proof of identity, and documentation of any prior history of an approved caregiver. A social worker will visit your home and conduct a Home Environment Assessment. The assessment includes making sure the home is a safe place for a child and will incorporate any other important information (like the presence of weapons, a pool, pets, etc.) in the home.
Next, the social worker will begin the Psycho-Social Assessment. The Psycho-Social Assessment occurs through at least two interviews, one of which must be in the home where the prospective foster parents currently reside, and where the foster child would reside. Questions will consist of your reasons for wanting to be a resource family, what your childhood upbringing was like, what values and systems of belief you maintain. The social worker will also review the documents from your home study (finances, current employment, etc.). If there are currently children in the home then they will be assessed and parenting styles will be discussed. If no children are currently in the home, prospective foster parents will be asked about their experiences with children, discipline methods, and favored parenting practices. Through these questions, the social worker will assess the best type of child for your family, ensuring a good placement for both foster child and foster parents.
Social workers will ask “risk assessment” questions about alcohol and substance abuse and any history of physical or emotional abuse. The social worker will then assess the prospective foster parents’ ability to provide a supportive and nurturing environment for an at-risk child (i.e. children who have been victims of abuse and neglect). Lastly, the social worker will evaluate your ability to work on an ongoing basis with the agency, the birth parents, extended family, and any other professionals supporting the child.
The complete RFA should be completed within 90 days, though in many counties, such as Los Angeles, the process and subsequent approval reportedly take nine months currently. Once approval is granted, families will receive a certificate listing them as a fully licensed resource family in the state of California.
The next step will be to contact your social worker to let them know your certificate has come through and is active. It is important to remember that annual educational training (typically 8-12 hours) will be required to maintain your certification so be sure to keep an eye on your paperwork and dates. Your social worker will discuss again the type of child you are open to fostering (i.e. age, gender, health issues, any special needs) and begin the search to find a match. It is important to remember that a match will be made only if your social worker and the county board view it as a good match for the child.
When a child is identified, the prospective foster parents will get a call and the social worker will present some initial information from the child’s file. If the family feels the match could be a good one, a meeting will be set up to learn more about the child. Once a family agrees to foster a child, the child’s local authority and social worker will be notified. They will evaluate you and your home and determine if the placement is a good one for the intended foster child. Ideally, the child will have a say in their placement but not always.
When the time comes to meet your foster child, be ready to be open and supportive. Take time to show the child around your house, show them where the bathroom is, smile a lot, offer some snacks or a child-friendly meal. Offer something to drink. Children who have been through trauma will not always be comfortable asking for what they need, so give them some simple options. Introduce any other children and/or pets in the house. Show your new foster child their room and allow them some privacy should they desire it. Know that bedtime may, and will probably, be difficult, so stay open and supportive. Realize that as much as you may want to hug and comfort your foster child they may not be open to initial contact. Attachment and feel safe in a new place take time.
In the weeks and months ahead, expect numerous visits from social workers and other professional support staff. Foster parents will receive ongoing monetary support between $896 – $1,072 to feed, clothe, and meet the materials needs of the foster child. The amount of monetary support received varies on the county in which the foster parents reside and the age of the foster child. Medical and dental care is provided through the state-run Med-Cal program. Currently, no financial support is given for childcare for a foster child, though the issue has been up for debate frequently in California.
Interested in adopting from foster care? Not every placement is a potential permanent one so interested families should decide if fostering or fostering to adopt is the right fit. Though a foster child’s situation may change, family reunification is always the first and primary goal. Only once every effort to reunite the child with their biological parents/guardians and/or relatives has been exhausted will adoption from foster care be considered. That said, there are an estimated 100,000 children in the foster care system whose parental rights have been terminated. These children are eligible for adoption and many reside in the state of California. Visit the adoption photo listings page or speak with a state foster family agency to get started.
Want to learn more about how to become a foster parent in California? Visit the California Department of Social Services page to access more information.
Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.