In the United States, there are roughly 438,000 children in the U.S. foster care system on any given day. The U.S. foster care system is designed to provide a safe, nurturing temporary living arrangement for a child who has been removed from their biological parents or caregivers. Children who have been displaced from their homes have a particular need for a place where they can feel safe and where they can experience a sense of normalcy. As a foster parent, you are in a unique position to give this gift to a foster child. Foster parents work with the child, their biological family, and the child’s caseworker. A foster placement may last anywhere from a few weeks to a number of months. In some cases, parental rights may be terminated and the foster child then becomes eligible for adoption. That said, it is important to remember that family reunification is always the goal for children in foster care and parental rights are only terminated by the court when, and if, doing so proves to be in the best interest of the child. With so many children in foster care, there is an urgent need for families willing to open their homes and their hearts. Interested in how to become a foster parent in NC? Here’s everything you need to know.
In 2017, the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina reported a record number of children in foster care. It was their highest rate in 10 years, more than 11,000 children, and the numbers seemed to only go up. There are several reasons for children to enter foster care, the most prevalent of which is parent abuse and/or neglect. In North Carolina, there has been a particular increase in children in foster care due to the opioid crisis facing the state. Children in foster care range in age from infants to adolescents age 18 and come from all ethnic and racial backgrounds. The average age of a child in North Carolina foster care is 9 years old. Some children may have special physical, medical, or emotional needs. Children in foster care are there through no fault of their own. Each year about 600 children age out of the system without finding a permanent family. In North Carolina, there is an urgent need for families open to fostering older children and children in sibling groups.
The first step in learning how to become a foster parent in NC is to find out eligibility guidelines. In North Carolina foster parents must be 21 years old and live within the state of North Carolina. Foster parents may be single or married, though if married many counties insist on at least one year of marriage prior to application. There may be children already living in the home, though interested foster parents must be able to provide each child with their own bed and adequate drawer and closet space. Boys and girls under the age of 5 may share a bedroom with a child of the opposite gender. Children over the age of 5 may share a room with a child of the same gender provided they are with five years of age of the other child.
Family foster care license limits five children to the home (including the foster child) and therapeutic foster care licenses limit four children to the home (including the foster child). Foster parents may either rent or own their own home and there is no income requirement beyond being able to provide for the foster child. Foster parents may work outside the home. Access to transportation is also required to help the foster child to doctor’s visits and other appointments.
The next step in how to become a foster parent in NC is to watch the mandatory Foster Parent Orientation video developed by the North Carolina Division of Social Services. The purpose of the video is to give an introduction to the North Carolina foster care system and to learn more about the foster care family licensing process. At the end of the video, there will be a prompt to print out a certificate. This certificate is the first step in the foster care licensing process.
Following the video, prospective foster parents will select an agency with whom they would like to work. There are agencies throughout the state, though Children’s Home Society of North Carolina is one of the bigger ones. Interested foster parents will then attend a foster care informational meeting at their selected agency and meet the caseworkers and support staff with whom they will be working. All informational meetings are free and held throughout the state of North Carolina throughout the year.
Once an agency is selected, prospective foster parents will begin the process of foster parent training. Married couples are expected to complete the course together and, once licensed, foster families must continue to complete educational training every two years. The no-cost training consists of 30 hours of the Trauma Informed Partnering for Safety and Permanence: Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting course, otherwise known as the TIPS-MAPP course. During the training, prospective foster parents will learn about how best to care for and nurture a child who is in foster care. Topics range from attachment disorders, behavior challenges, the effects of abuse and neglect on a child, how to support a child who is experiencing grief and loss. Prospective foster parents will also be asked to consider if fostering or adopting is right for them. Are they able to parent a child who has been neglected or abused? And, perhaps most importantly, what type of child do they believe they can successfully parent? Another element of the training is to educate foster parents in the role they will play in the triad between themselves, the biological family, and the caseworkers and foster care system.
Following the TIPS-MAPP course, the next step in how to become a foster parent in NC is to complete a pre-placement assessment. The pre-placement assessment is a bit like a home study in that prospective foster parents will need to provide documentation and a history of their lives to highlight the type of home environment they would provide for a foster child. Prospective foster parents must provide a current medical and health history for every member of the family living within the home, certified marriage and divorce certificates, and a list of at least three references. Prospective foster parents must complete a background check and criminal check (for felonies) and submit a record from the DMV (to show no DUIs within the last five years). An abuse/neglect check must be completed for all people in the home over the age of 14. Prospective foster parents must be certified in CPR and First Aid and have successfully completed a Medication Administration training.
Once all the documents, references, and clearances have been obtained, prospective foster parents will receive a visit from a state-licensed social worker from the agency with whom they chose to work. The social worker will walk through the home to assess if fire and safety precautions are in place. Next, the social worker will sit down to discuss what type of child the family is open to fostering. It is important to be open and honest about the type and age of child a family would consider, and it is important for the social worker to assess what type of child would be best for the family. Following the in-person meeting, the social worker will write up their support and then the agency will complete the Foster Home Application. This will then be submitted to the North Carolina Division of Social Services for review. If the application is found favorable, a foster care family license will be issued.
The licensing process takes between six to seven months, depending on how quickly families are able to compile and complete paperwork and how quickly the paperwork may move through the North Carolina Division of Social Services.
When a family receives their first foster child match depends on what they are open to, where they live, and how many children are in need on any given day. In the interim, there are things families can do to prepare for a foster child to come into their home. Depending on the age a family said yes to, there may be a need for diapers, Pack ‘n Plays, toys, coloring books, books, pajamas, and toiletries. Remember, many children entering foster care do so with very little so being able to provide a child a few kid-friendly items when they first arrive can help ease the transition.
Receiving a Referral
Once a family receives their foster care family license, they are eligible to be matched with a child. When a child enters the foster care system, the North Carolina Division of Social Services evaluates the child’s needs and locations. Social workers then consult the database of licensed foster care families and find one, or a few, who might be a good match for the child and vice-versa. A meeting is then held to evaluate the family and their strengths and weaknesses, then, if the match is a good one, the social worker will contact the foster family. The foster family will be given information about the child and then decide if they are open to fostering that child. It is important to remember that a family may choose to say no to a placement if they feel the child’s needs are more than they feel equipped to parent.
Meeting the Child
Once a family says yes to a match, the social worker will bring the child to the foster family’s home. The first meeting with a new foster child can be scary and uncomfortable both for the foster parent and the foster child, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember to stop and think about things from the child’s perspective. Their world has been turned upside down and, sometimes overnight, they find themselves in a new environment with foreign people. When the child first arrives, show them where their bedroom is and where the bathroom is. Show them where to find water, and drinks, and snacks. Then take cues from them. Do they seem to want time to settle in? Would they prefer time by themselves? Find small ways to interact but know it will take some time to adjust—for both of you. In the first few days, try to establish a routine and be prepared to give the child lots of time, lots of support, and lots and lots of love.
One question many prospective parents have when exploring how to become a foster parent in NC is what type of support they will receive. Beyond their caseworkers, who are always there, 24/7 to assist foster parents as needs arise, there are a number of foster family support groups. Finding support networks is important to both foster children and foster parents because the needs, experiences, and challenges both foster children and foster parents face are unique. The National Foster Parent Association is a great way to start connecting with other families in the area. Alternatively, many agencies offer gatherings and networking events for families whom they serve.
Financially, foster families in North Carolina can expect to receive a monthly stipend of $475 for a child age 0-5, $581 a month for a child age 6-12, and $634 a month for children age 13 and older. All foster children are covered by Medicaid for their medical and dental expenses. Each foster child will have their own Medicaid card. For older children, the Child Welfare Postsecondary Support Program, known as NC Reach, provides funding for college students who aged out of the foster care system or who were adopted from foster care after their 12th birthday.
Becoming a foster parent is a journey that is both challenging and rewarding like none other. Families interested in adopting from foster care in North Carolina should visit the photolisting sites for listings of available children whose parental rights have been terminated. Families may adopt from North Carolina without being a resident of the state.