So you’ve decided or are in the process of deciding whether or not to become a foster parent? Congratulations and thank you! With more than 400,000 children living in foster care in the United States on any given day, 100,000 of whom are waiting to be adopted, your choice is a noble one. However, as you may expect, becoming a foster parent is not as easy as one, two, three. In this article, we will discuss how to become a foster parent in GA and offer you as much information to help you to further research your decision as well as provide links to articles and resources to help you to prepare to undertake this very important and life-changing mission should you accept it!
What is Foster Care?
The Child Welfare 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 refer to placement settings such as group homes, residential care facilities, emergency shelters, and supervised independent living.
Special Needs and Teens
Children from newborns to age 18 make up the foster care system. While the focus is often on infants and young children, special needs children and teens are also in desperate need of foster families and in many cases, permanent homes before they age out of the system.
There are children in foster care who meet the Georgia definition of special needs and are awaiting adoption. According to the Georgia Division of Family and Children, a foster child with special needs is ”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).”
Georgia offers an Independent Living Program for teens currently or formerly in foster care with services to help these youth to prepare for and transition successfully into adulthood. Both foster and adoptive families can play a critical role for a teen by providing a forever home and/or guiding them through ILP.
National Foster Care Facts You Should Know
According to the website Voices for Children:
- “More than 600,000 children experience foster care in the United States [each year].
- ”8% of children in foster care have languished there for five or more years.
- ”75% of children in foster care are working below grade level in school.
- ”50% of children in foster care will never graduate from high school or obtain [a] GED.
- ”Only 15% of foster children will attend college, and fewer than 3% will earn a college degree.
- ”65% of … adults formerly in foster care experienced seven or more school changes (K-12).
- ”Over 1/3 of all foster teen boys will be incarcerated before age 21.
- ”25% of foster children experience PTSD (comparable to the rate of U.S. war veterans), and tend to suffer high rates of debilitating depression and low self-esteem.
- ”After ‘aging out,’ 25% of foster teens will become homeless.
- ”In 2013, more than 23,000 young people aged out of foster care without permanent families.
- ”Roughly 55% of children living in foster care who are waiting to be adopted will have three or more placements, and 33% of children change elementary schools five or more times.”
Are You Ready?
Before you learn how to become a foster parent in GA, it’s important to evaluate whether or not you are ready to become a foster parent. Fostering requires a prospective parent to exhibit love, compassion, patience, understanding, and the willingness to accept and learn the parts about fostering (and possibly adoption) that they do not know.
Adoption.com’s “Becoming a Foster Parent Guide“ offers 12 important steps involving fostering that all interested foster parents should become familiar with.
Foster parenting will be different than traditional parenting. That is a given. Making sure that your parenting is consistent and understanding the importance of routine will play a large role in ensuring successful fostering. You can imagine that most children in foster care have experienced or witnessed trauma of some sort. Well-meaning foster parents need to recognize that and while you may think being easy-going or less regimented is being kind to a child who is struggling as a result of a traumatic experience, you will be doing a disservice to a child who is most likely craving the very structure that you can provide.
As you develop a relationship with your foster child, your routine may change, but providing stability should remain steady.
Understanding the End Goal of Fostering
It’s important for foster parents to understand and acknowledge that the goal of fostering is to provide a temporary safe home for children and teens when their parents or other primary caregivers are experiencing a crisis and are unable to provide proper or adequate care. The first goal of foster care is to safely reunite these children with their birth families as soon as possible. This process is typically referred to as reunification. When reunification is not possible, the goal may change to adoption. It is important to remember that while foster care is meant to be a temporary situation, adoption is permanent.
The Adoption.com article, “Foster Care in GA,” shares a quote from the writer Tonia Christle: “You might be temporary in their lives. They might be temporary in yours. But there is nothing temporary about the love or the lesson.”
Scarymommy.com offers insight into one mom’s viral post about what it feels like to say goodbye to your foster baby here.
As the author states, being a foster parent truly is hard work and it takes a special kind of person to weather the storm of opening up your home and heart knowing that the relationship you will develop may be short-lived.
Who Are GA’s Foster Parents?
Foster parents in the state of Georgia are categorized in the following manner:
Partnership Parents, or PPs – who provide temporary homes for children and are expected to work in partnership with birth families, acting as mentors whenever possible.
Relative Partnership Parents, or RPPs – who are related by blood, marriage, or adoption to the foster children placed in their home. Like PPs, RPPs are also expected to work in partnership with birth families and serve as mentors.
Adoptive Parents, or APs – are also known as forever families who make a lifelong commitment to a foster child whose birth parents have voluntarily surrendered or terminated their parental rights in court. Adoptive parents who also happen to be relatives are known as relative adoptive parents.
Adoptive Parent-Legal Risk Parents – who are adoptive parents who are willing to accept children not yet legally free for adoption.
Resource Parents, or RPs – who serves as a PP with the intention of becoming an adoptive parent.
Interstate Compact-related, or ICPC – who are caregivers who serve children through the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.
Approval to Foster in GA
Approximately 14,000 of children found themselves in need of temporary care last year, through no fault of their own, faced with a situation where they are unable to live with their biological families and are placed into the foster care system. According to the Giving Children a Chance website, prospective foster parents need to complete several steps in order to receive approval before they can consider how to become a foster parent in GA, at least through the GCAC, including:
1. Parents must “review … [the state’s] Foster Parent Requirements and self-assessment qualification.”
2. Parents must call to schedule a time for a private two-hour orientation interview. Click here for more information on information sessions, regional schedules, and session webinars.
3. Parents must “complete paperwork, background checks, and medical exams.”
4. Parents must schedule a psychosocial session with a counselor.
5. Parents must “prepare for a scheduled home study and evaluation.”
6. Parents must “attend GCAC of Georgia’s IMPACT Training.”
7. Parents must open their home to receive their first child.
IMPACT Training — What is it?
As part of the process of how to become a foster parent in GA, the state’s Division of Family and Children Services requires foster parents to complete IMPACT, which stands for Initial Interest, Mutual Selection, Pre-Service Training, Assessment, Continuing Development and Teamwork. IMPACT is a “pre-service training program used to prepare prospective foster and adoptive families for their role and to expose them to the basic skills and competencies needed to begin providing foster and adoptive care. IMPACT … involves an instructive approach to preparing families. The curriculum includes an assortment of visual aids, audio-visuals, role-play, and vignettes, to support the acquisition of skills and competencies. Woven throughout the training will be applicable references to cultural and disciplinary issues related to caring for children in placement. Upon completion, participants must demonstrate at least minimal mastery and internalization of the skills and competencies presented.”
Areas of IMPACT training include:
- The Fostering and Adoption Process
- Emotional/Cognitive/Behavioral Implications in Foster and Adopting
- Sexuality and Sexual Orientation
- Communication and Partnership
- Identity and Cultural Issues
Requirements to Foster in GA
In addition to the above steps and IMPACT training, prospective foster parents must meet the following requirements:
- Must be at least 10 years older than the child to be placed and if single, be at least 21 years of age
- “Pass a drug screen
- “Complete a medical exam”
- Have a “valid Georgia driver’s license
- “Meet home safety requirements
- “Provide employment and family references
- “Complete state and federal background check.”
- Any other adult household members (over age 18) who has not been a resident of Georgia for a minimum of five years must be screened in the Child Abuse and Neglect registry of each state of prior residence
- “Complete CPR, First Aid, and water safety training
- “Have current automobile coverage and health insurance
- “Complete crisis Intervention – emergency management training”
Receiving Approval — What Now?
According to the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, once you have submitted your application to become a foster parent, the division will initiate a written family evaluation or assessment that must be completed within eight weeks of the application completing all pre-service activities and submitting all required forms and documentation.
Prospective foster parents can expect the approval process to play out in three phases:
- Information Session
- Pre-Service Training and Home Evaluation
The Inquiry Phase is the time when caregivers inquire about becoming foster parents, receive information materials, and are invited to an information session in their county.
The Information Session Phase involves the prospective foster parents attending a group or individual information session where they will receive information about GA’s child welfare system, a caregiver overview, safety screening information, and general foster care provider information. During this phase, prospective caregivers will receive applications, forms, checklists, reports, and other handouts, which must be completed and returned to the GA Division of Family and Children Services.
Finally, during the Pre-Service Training and Home Evaluation Phase, the prospective foster family can expect to complete three home consultations.
Once the above phases are complete, home evaluation applicants will receive a letter from the county notifying them of final approval.
They say “it takes a village” to raise a child and that’s clearly true in the case of foster children. Foster parents may find themselves in need of a parental support group, respite, or babysitters. They also may seek family support groups. Developed in 2001 to help families to identify local resources and services, the Georgia Center for Resources and Support serves foster and adoptive families. The center employs regional resource advisors to assist families in their search for services to meet the needs of their child. The center also has a lending library and a support line.
What Does it Cost to Become a GA Foster Parent?
If you choose to foster through the GA Division of Family and Children’s Services, the nominal fees for medical exams and drug screens are typically paid by prospective parents, but these are reimbursable. Should you work with a private agency, you may be charged fees.
For more information on how to become a foster parent in GA or to get started on your journey today, visit the state of GA’s Division of Family and Children Service website and click here for an inquiry form.