Did you know that there are thousands of children in foster care in Florida and that hundreds of children are waiting for permanent placement without identified families? According to Florida’s Children First, there is a looming crisis due to a rise in the number of children entering the state’s welfare system more families than ever are needed to step up to help these children are entering an already overcrowded arena. Fostering a child is challenging and rewarding for both the foster parent and the foster child and most who accept the challenge agree that it is a life-changing experience they wouldn’t change for the world.

Have you ever thought about or wondered how to become a foster parent in Florida? As with every other state, foster care in Florida comes with its own set of requirements, steps, guidelines, and insider tips. It’s important for anyone interested in becoming a foster parent to make an effort to become familiar not just with foster care in general, but more so with foster care information specific to the state where you reside. Learning what you don’t know just may help to ease your mind as well as shorten the time it will take to find a match for you and a waiting child!

What is Fostering All About?

Fostering means opening your heart and your home to a child who has experienced the loss of family, structure, and security in his life. The Child Welfare Information Gateway defines foster 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 even supervised independent living.”

They expand on the different types of and beliefs behind foster care such as:

 - “Family foster care”

- “Treatment foster care”

- Other Planned Permanent Arrangement or Another Planned Permanent Arrangement

- “Achieving a continuum of care”

Family foster care is the most traditional form of foster care. Treatment foster care, or therapeutic foster care, is for children who have experienced extreme trauma and/or are dealing with emotional or behavioral needs considered to be severe. Foster parents will need to complete specialized training in order to qualify to care for a child requiring this level of services. Similarly, medical foster care also requires foster families to receive special training and be well-equipped to handle a child’s medical needs.

The goal of the foster care system is to help mentor the child’s birth family and help with the family reunification process. Anyone interested in learning how to become a foster parent in Florida should understand the difference between fostering and fostering to adopt, which comes with its own set of guidelines. The Adoption.com article, “Foster to Adopt” provides an overview of the steps and requirements specific to families interested in fostering to adopt.

Still, while your foster placement may be a temporary situation versus a permanent placement, you need to be supportive and provide guidance in dealing with the very real issues associated with his past. In addition, you may be the foster parent a child will count on to help him to tie his shoes, teach him his ABCs, show him how to ride a bike, or let him know what it feels like to run to open arms for comfort during a midnight lightning storm. You may help her to experience her first steps, her trip to the zoo, hold her hand during a scary first visit to the doctor, convince her to share a smile while seated on Santa’s lap, count to three while she jumps into a pool for the first time, along with so many other experiences parents and children encounter together.

Before you start to think that far ahead, though, you should first determine your eligibility as a foster parent.

Initial Considerations for How to Become a Foster Parent in Florida

Potential foster families must first attend an informational meeting in order to learn about the requirements of being a foster or adoptive parent in your area. Not only is this your opportunity to hear about how to become a foster parent in Florida, but it also affords you the chance to ask pertinent questions to determine whether or not you meet the criteria and if this is the path for you.

Requirements to foster a child in Florida include:

 - You can be married or single

- You must be at least 21 years old

- You must be financially stable

- You must pass the home study

- References and background checks may be required

- Documents for marriage and/or divorce and birth certificates

- Training must be completed

There may be other requirements you have to meet, including the most important requirement of all—being willing to give these children a home that is loving and nurturing.

Then, you will work with your community-based care agency or caseworker to ensure you meet all of the requirements and begin the process. The typical time frame to complete the process from start to finish is six to eight months.

Being Matched with a Child

After the beginning steps have been completed, then you may be able to get a match. Check with your state to see what you can expect during this time of receiving placements.

According to an Adoption.com article, “In order to ensure that you find the right match for your family, you should make sure to stay in constant contact with your caseworker and prepare to be patient while you wait for your match. There is no one-size-fits-all timeline for matches, rather a placement can vary depending on the jurisdiction responsible for the child. It is important for you to ask questions during this time period, especially if you are informed of a potential match. It’s in the best interest of all involved for you to learn as much as you can in order to make a well-informed decision regarding placement.

“Once a match occurs, you will receive additional information about the child or sibling group so that your decision to proceed with meeting them is a well-informed one.  Once you have had an opportunity to review all of the available information about the child and are satisfied that the match is a good one for you and for the child, the process of introducing your family to the child or sibling group begins.

“If your family is not selected as the adoptive placement for a child or sibling group, you might be asked if you’re willing to be considered for other children available for adoption through that agency or to be a backup family for the child should the selected family decide not to proceed with adopting them.”

Another Consideration—Fostering to Adopt

Similarly to fostering a child with the goal of family reunification, families interested in fostering to adopt must pass similar requirements and take many of the same steps in order to be considered. The Florida Department of Children and Families offers answers to frequently asked questions for those interested in fostering to adopt.

The article, “Adoption Agencies in Florida” provides links to all of the options families in Florida may want to consider as you decide what type of adoption will work best for your situation. Additionally, Adoption.com’s photolisting for the state of Florida is just one resource for you to get acquainted with the thousands of children who are cleared for Adoption in Florida.

What to Do After Placement?

While preparing to foster in Florida may have been difficult then you should prepare yourself. Now that you have a match and a foster child coming to (or already in) your home, you’re beginning a difficult journey that requires adjustment.

Firstly, make sure you’ve prepared or are working on developing a support system. The people in your support system will be crucial in your fostering journey.

An Adoption.com article offers this advice on the post-placement period for fostering, “You will want to prepare your home to ensure it’s move-in ready and has been modified, if necessary, to accommodate any special needs your foster child may have. Moving into a new home and a new family can be a traumatic experience, try and make your foster child’s environment warm and welcoming by doing your homework in advance to get to know some of his/her likes and dislikes—from favorite colors to favorite toys to having some favorite music and shows on hand. …You should make sure to work with your caseworker and your foster child’s educational providers—especially if they will be transferring to a new district. Planning ahead will help to make the transition much easier.”

Connecting

There are multiple resources on Adoption.com that can help you connect and bond with your foster child. Check out “The Basics of Bonding and Attachment. A Guide.” and “How Can I Bond with My Foster Child?” from Adoption.org.

According to “How Can I Bond with My Foster Child?, “The first thing you should do is groundwork. You should immediately be asking for records so you can review where your child is coming from, what they might have been exposed to previously; if they have experienced any kind of trauma; did they have a foster mom that they had problems with; do they have allergies; what are their likes or dislikes; do they have a favorite toy or favorite holiday?

“…The second most important step you can take to bonding with your foster child is spending quality time with them. Now, you certainly are not expected to take your child to the amusement park every weekend, but taking your child on family outings and going places is a great option.”

There are many ways to encourage bonding and connecting with your foster child. Try a few things and see what works. However, remember that no matter what you do, it will take time to bond and connect with your foster child

Finances

Fostering children is not a paid position, despite the oftentimes presented misinterpretation that foster families “get paid” to foster the children they take in. Rather, in most cases, foster parents can expect to receive a modest stipend to help cover the costs associated with caring for children. While the system is set up to help foster families to be able to take care of the children in their care, it should be noted that the stipend may not cover all costs associated with caring for a child.

According to the Adoption.com article, “Foster Care in Florida,” “The Florida Department of Children and Families reports that foster parents are paid $429 a month per child … up to 5 years of age. Foster parents with children in foster care in Florida ages 6 years old to 12 years old are paid $440 per month per child. Foster parents of children ages 13 years and older are paid $515 a month currently.”

As would be expected, stipends are higher for children requiring special services to support therapeutic physical, educational, or emotional needs. Considering most foster children show up with little to no personal items of their own, it is up to foster families to consider the basic necessities required by infants and children of all ages in terms of food, clothing, shelter, school supplies, and toiletries. Not to mention extras like basic comfort items, toys, and sports equipment.

Next Steps in How to Become a Foster Parent in Florida

Just because you’ve had a successful placement, that doesn’t mean that you can stop learning. Fostering is complex and it’s life-changing. Keep in contact with your social worker and you will need to keep using state resources, trust me, they can aid you in your transition period. Make sure you also look into local or online groups of foster families that you can relate to, they can be very helpful to connect with. Adoption.com’s forum specific to Florida foster and adoption offers links to many of the most common questions and concerns prospective foster parents share.

There are many resources that can help you with fostering in the State of Florida on the Child Welfare Information Gateway here at the National Foster Care and Adoption Directory Search.

Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.