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 systemmore 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 childand 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 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:

  • Prospective parents may be married or single

  • You must be at least 21 years of age

  • You must be financially stable

  • You must conduct yourself as a responsible mature adult,

  • You will need to complete an application

  • You will need to share information regarding your lifestyle and background

  • Relative and non-relative references will be requested

  • Proof of marriage and/or divorce (if applicable) will be required

  • You will be subject to a criminal history background check and an abuse/neglect check (to include all adults household members)

  • You will need to attend training to learn about issues of abused and neglected children

There are additional basic requirements concerning basic home safety as well as responsibilities, including the most important requirement of all—agreeing to provide a loving and nurturing environment and upbringing for children—that all candidates will need to learn about and agree to before being considered for foster care.

Once you have made that determination, you will work closely with your community-based care agency or caseworker to ensure you are able to meet all of the requirements and begin your paperwork and training. The typical time frame to complete the process from start to finish is six to eight months.

Being Matched with a Child

Once your application and home study have been approved, your caseworker can begin to help you search for an appropriate match. Policies regarding being matched with a child and receiving an adoptive placement vary from state to state. As a result, the timelines and specific processes agencies use in matching children with families may vary widely.

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.

Placement, Parenthood, and Family – Now What?

You’ve been successfully matched and you are now officially a foster family. If you thought the process leading up to fostering in Florida was hard work, get ready for the reality that is raising a child! While the rewards are endless, whether you are fostering an infant, child, or teen, you will want to prepare your home and the occupants in it for the adjustment/transition period.

If you haven’t already, sharing your wealth of knowledge from the training and endless internet searches you’ve now completed with close family and friends is also a good idea. The more in your circle who are able to support you and your foster child the better for everyone.

Additionally, 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.

By now, you should have researched and determined medical service providers who are familiar with foster children and any special circumstances that may come with that territory. Deciding whether or not to keep or change your foster child’s current providers should be considered ahead of time.

You should make sure to work with your caseworker and your foster child’s educational providers—especially if he/she will be transferring to a new district. Planning ahead will help to make the transition much easier.

Bonding and Attachments

It’s important to make your foster child feel welcome and comfortable. Adoption.com’s article, “10 Activities to Bond with your Foster Children” offers interesting ideas to help strengthen your relationship while keeping in mind that not all children are the same, nor do they respond the same.

As with any child, spending time together no matter what you’re doing is a good first step. Making sure to implement structure and routine will help to foster a sense of familiarity that a foster child can come to depend on in an otherwise uncertain situation.

Reading together, playing games, and eating meals together are all basic ways of ensuring time for you to get to know one another. Encouraging your foster child to share his or her own ideas for interesting activities and pursuing interests will help to build mutual trust and self-esteem.

Don’t expect bonding and attachment to happen overnight, as with any relationship, building a foundation takes time and patience.

Financial Consideration 

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

Educating yourself about fostering doesn’t and shouldn’t end with placement. Fostering children is a life-changing situation for everyone involved. Make sure to keep in touch with your state resources, including social workers and specialists who may be able to help make the transition easier. Consider reaching out and connecting with other foster families in your area who will be able to relate to your situation and that of your foster child. 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.

You can find many resources, including parent support group information for 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.