The foster care system can be overwhelming and you find yourself not knowing where to start. I am here to try to help you with that, well at least to the best of my ability. In this article, I will try to give you an overall understanding of what Iowa foster care looks like. Let all the information sink in and when you are ready, reach out to your local agency to find out how you can get more involved with foster care.

What is Foster Care?

Just like everything else in life, we should probably start with the basics. For instance, what is Iowa foster care? Or even better yet, what is foster care like? Foster care, which can also be called out-of-home care, is a temporary living situation provided by residents and mandated by each state for children who cannot live with their biological families. The caregivers could be relatives or unrelated foster parents. Foster care can also include the placement of children in group homes, residential care facilities, and/or emergency shelters.

How Do Children Enter the Iowa Foster Care System?

Children enter the foster care system for several different reasons. The Iowa Department of Human Services usually investigates incidences of known or suspected physical, emotional, or sexual abuse and/or neglect. When DHS determines that the child cannot remain safely in their current home, they must seek alternative care. This is when foster care comes into play. In a lot of cases, temporary care is provided by a relative or others who have an already existing relationship with the child. If there is not a relative or friend that can provide care in a safe and stable environment, a foster care family will take placement of the child. It is the intention of everyone involved to keep the child as close to the child’s home, whenever possible. It is also important to note that the goal of foster care is reunification with the child and biological parents.

Who Are the Children in the Iowa Foster Care System?

In Iowa, there are approximately 4,000 children every year in need of a temporary foster home. These children range in age from newborns to 18 years old. They also could be part of a sibling group, making it harder to find a home environment for all of them. In most cases, you must keep the children in the same foster home. These children most likely will have significant emotional, mental, or physical needs that require extra attention and care. Some of these children may also have learning challenges which also require extra patience, advocacy, and intervention.

You may also hear that the child has special needs. What does that mean and should you be concerned? The term “special needs” covers a wide variety of criteria, which includes the following:

  • A child over the age of 8 and Caucasian

  • A child over the age of 2 and part of a minority race or ethnic group

  • A child who has been medically diagnosed as disabled

  • A child who is a member of a sibling group of three or more.

  • A child who has been diagnosed with an intellectual disability

  • A child who has been diagnosed with a mental health disability either a psychiatric, behavioral, or emotional disorder.

How Do I Become a Foster Parent?

Think you are finally ready to become a foster parent in Iowa, but not sure what should be the first step or even what the whole process entails? For the most part, the steps to becoming a foster parent are the same no matter what state you live in. However, you will want to check with your local agencies to be exactly sure of the steps but this will give you a small overview of what to expect when wanting to become foster parents. I, again, suggest that you contact a local agency to work with to become a certified foster parent. Most adoption agencies and local county agencies will be able to help you accomplish this. While most of the steps are the same, checking with them to make sure you are on the right path is always a good idea. Several steps need to be taken to become foster care licensed. They are as follows:

1. Fill out an application form with your agency. This will include income and demographic information as well as contact information for everyone that lives in your home. This will help to ensure you are helping children that would remain in their local community, i.e. school. You will also be able to communicate with your agency what children you would be most comfortable working with, such as their age, gender, special needs, behavioral needs, etc.

2. You will also need to attend an informational meeting if working with certain agencies. This meeting usually provides basic information about becoming foster parents and more specific information about Iowa foster care.

3. You will also need to have a background check completed along with fingerprints taken to perform a criminal background check. A previous arrest or criminal background does not automatically prohibit you from becoming a foster parent. You will most likely have a chance to explain the situation, and depending on the crime, you may still be able to become a foster parent. Please note, these are critical to ensure children are being placed in safe homes.

4. You must also attend TIPS-MAPP training. TIPS-MAAP stands for Trauma-Informed Parenting for Permanence and Safety: Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting. This is a 30-hour long class that meets three hours once a week for 10 weeks. This class teaches you about the children in foster care and some of the challenges you may face while the children are placed in your home. It covers topics from state laws, how to interact with the birth family, how you can and can’t discipline the children in your case, strategies for handling specific situations you may encounter, and much more.

5. In addition to the TIPS-MAPP training, all foster parents must also be certified in CPR/First Aid. You will also take an adult and child mandatory reporter training about the child/dependent adult abuse. Iowa also offers you to take additional training called Medication Management and also the Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standard. If the children in your home have pre-existing conditions that will determine what additional training you may want to take. Also, once you are licensed in the state of Iowa, you are required to have six hours of in-service training every year.

6. You will also have to complete a home study. This usually consists of a lot of paperwork outlining information about yourself. This includes your childhood, your family of origin, your family values and beliefs, personality questions, relationship details, information about everyone in your home, and much more. You will also have a worker visit your home and walk through your home. You will need to provide several safety measures regarding your house, such as smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, outlet covers, and more. You will also have to make sure you have a plan in place regarding locking up prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and firearms if you have any.

7. Lastly, you will become a licensed foster care parent. Your information, documentation, and home study will be compiled together; once reviewed and accepted you will receive your foster care license. You will be licensed for a certain number of children, depending on your preference and also the size of your home. Licenses are usually renewed every two years but you will undergo the home study process again for the first and second annual renewals.

Do You Get Paid?

The state of Iowa does offer a maintenance payment to reimburse the foster parents for providing basic care for the children. These are paid based on the level of difficulty of care for each child. The basic rate is to be used to provide food, clothing, shelter, school expenses, incidental care for the child, transportation, and recreation activities for the child. The chart below is the current reimbursement rate.

Age of Child

Basic Rate

Basic + Level 1

Basic + Level 2

Basic + Level 3

0-5 years





6-11 years





12-15 years





16 +





Questions and Answers:

All of this information can be overwhelming. Here are some questions that people ask a lot about becoming foster parents. I will attempt at answering them to the best of my ability, but, again, I urge you to contact your local agencies to make sure you comply with all rules and regulations.

How big does my house have to be? 

There is not a specific size requirement, however, there are rules about your house. Each child must have at least 40 square feet of bedroom space. The bedroom has to have permanent walls, a door that closes, a working window that opens from the inside, a closet or dresser, and a bed. Children that are the same sex can share a bedroom as long as each child has 40 square feet of space. Children ages 6 years and older may not share a bedroom with a child of the opposite sex. Children ages 2 and under may sleep in the foster parents’ bedroom but children over the age of 2 must have their own bedroom as indicated above. You also do not have to own your own home, you may also rent as long as there is the same required space as listed above.

What if we own a gun or other hunting equipment, can we still become foster parents?

Yes. Several safety regulations will need to be followed to have guns and other hunting equipment at your house. All guns and other related equipment must be kept in a locked safe—one a child is unable to open. The ammunition then must be kept locked in a separate location from the guns. Your agent will be checking for these things at each visit. Make sure to always keep them locked and separate, it is for the safety of all involved.

Can both parents work outside of the home?

Yes, both parents can work, and sometimes there is additional help with daycare costs. There are specific rules and regulations as to what type of daycare center can watch the foster children. Make sure to discuss this with your agency worker and how you intend to make childcare arrangements for the children who enter your home.

What about contact with the child’s biological parents?

How much contact will there be with the biological parents? Will I need to communicate with the biological parents? What is expected out of us? The ultimate goal of foster care is parent reunification so biological parent involvement is critical. In most cases, the biological parents will be notified as to the nature and location of their child. There are, however, times when this is not appropriate and can be harmful to the child. If your situation allows parent contact and involvement it will be arranged with your caseworker/social worker/etc. These visits could range from an hour to a couple of hours, depending on each child and situation. Every child in foster care will have an individualized care plan. This plan can be adjusted through the child’s stay in foster care and ultimately will hopefully result in parent reunification.

What information should be shared?

It would be helpful for biological parents to share as much information with the foster family (or agency worker) as possible. This can include but not be limited to the following: routine, special needs of the child, medical history/needs, school information including teacher names, classmate names if known, doctors names and locations, any upcoming appointments, any known allergies, any known medications are taken, names of friends and relatives, and any other specific child information. Every child needs to have the least amount of change to their routine. Having this information will be very helpful for the foster family and the child’s transition. Also, it may be helpful for the foster parents to share any information they have noticed about the child with the caseworker, not necessarily the biological parent.

I hope this article contains helpful information regarding Iowa foster care. There are probably several other questions you may have regarding foster care, check out for more helpful resources.



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