Set in the deep south, Louisiana is a state on the Gulf of Mexico named after the French King, Louis XVI. Known for its rich history of Creole and Cajun cultures, Louisiana is home to great food, incredible jazz music, and of course Mardi Gras. But amid all its fanfare, Louisiana is also home to roughly 4,100 foster children.
A foster child refers to a child who has been removed temporarily from his or her permanent home and guardian. The child’s temporary removal from her home and guardian often comes about as a result of neglect and/or abuse of that child. Children in foster care are some of the most vulnerable children in the United States and many areas throughout the country are in need of adults willing to open their hearts and homes to a foster child. On any given day, there are 400,000 children in the foster care system in the United States. Children enter the foster care system through no fault of their own. The length of stay within foster care depends on several circumstances, not the least of which is the child’s guardian’s ability to care for the child. Some children stay in foster care temporarily for a few weeks or months, some stay for years, and others may have their parental rights ultimately terminated. It should be remembered that the goal of foster care is always family reunification whenever possible.
For these children in need, a foster parent is someone who can step in and care for the child. Foster parents may be relatives or nonrelatives and all must be licensed by the state. When a foster parent is not available, children may reside in a group home. In the Louisiana foster care system, there is a need for both support of families looking to foster and families looking to foster to adopt. Ready to make a difference in the Louisiana foster care system? Here’s everything you need to know.
Who Is in Foster Care?
Children who enter foster care may be any age and come from any background. Of the over 4,000 children in foster care in Louisiana, there is a particular need for foster parents for teenage youth. This past May, the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) launched a recruitment campaign to enlist foster families specifically for youth age 12-17. Teenagers make up 20% of Louisiana foster care, but most are without foster parents. This means that hundreds of teenagers are living in group homes. In a further attempt to aid young people in a vulnerable state, in June, the Governor of Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards, signed into legislation a new act that extends foster care until the age of 21. This was in direct response to the many dangers youth face when they age out of the foster care system.
Requirements to Become a Louisiana Foster Parent
To become a foster parent in Louisiana, you must be 21 years old and be financially stable. Financial stability means only that you are able to meet your family’s current financial needs. Interested foster parents should be in good health and be emotionally ready to parent a child who has experienced the trauma of abuse and/or neglect. Foster parents may be single or married and may either rent or own their home. The foster parents’ home can be any size but must have adequate room for a child. Children of the same sex may share a bedroom, but any person over the age of 18 may not share a bedroom with the child. Most importantly, prospective foster parents must be ready to open their hearts and home to a child in need and be ready to provide that child a stable, nurturing environment.
Foster Care Certification
The first step to becoming a Louisiana foster parent is simply to attend an orientation meeting with the Department of Children and Family Services. During the orientation, prospective foster parents will learn the various ways to provide aid to children in the Louisiana foster care system, be educated on both foster and foster to adopt programs, and learn the role of the Department of Children and Family Services in the foster care process. Orientations are held throughout the state generally twice a month in each county. A full list of upcoming orientations can be found on the DCFS website. At the conclusion of the orientation, interested foster parents will then complete a formal application to enter the foster care program.
Following the orientation and application, prospective foster parents will complete 21 hours of preservice training. Preservice training is operated by the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services and occurs throughout the state throughout the month. Each session is 3 hours, for a total of 7 training sessions. The purpose of the training is to educate prospective foster parents on the Louisiana foster care system, understand the connection between themselves, the child’s social worker, and the child’s parents or guardians, and to learn how to access support for the child (such as Medicaid). Additionally, prospective foster parents will learn some of the unique challenges of parenting a child who has experienced trauma. Children in foster care may have behavioral struggles or developmental delays, both of which are common in children who have experienced upheaval in their family.
While fulfilling their preservice training, prospective foster parents will need to complete a home study. A home study is the final part of the certification process and includes a number of documents and references. The purpose of the home study is to provide a snapshot of what life with the foster family would be like for the foster child. Documents for certification include the following: car insurance, registration, and a valid driver’s license (to ensure the foster child will have access to transportation as needed), pay stubs and tax documents (to show financial stability), birth certificate, social security card (for proof of residency), a health form signed by a physician (to illustrate no communicable diseases), and marriage/divorce certificates as applicable. Each foster family must provide 5 personal references, at least 3 of which may not be related to the foster family. Finally, every person in the home over the age of 18 must be fingerprinted and cleared of any child abuse/neglect by CPS (Child Protective Services).
The final step of the certification process will be 3 at-home visits with a state-licensed social worker in the home of the prospective foster parents. At least one of the visits will include a safety inspection. The purpose of the at-home visits is for both the foster parents and the social worker to determine what type of child would be the best fit for the family and vice versa. Families will consider what gender and age they are open to fostering, any special educational or medical needs the child might have, whether they are open to sibling placements, and if fostering to adopt is potentially right for them. In the state of Louisiana, prospective foster parents may complete a dual certification, meaning the family is both licensed to foster and licensed to foster to adopt. The type of child the family is open to fostering will be the type of child (age, number of children, etc.) they are then licensed to foster.
Meeting Your Foster Child
Once the preservice training and home study requirements have been met, the foster parent certification is complete, and the family is eligible to receive their first placement. A family’s first placement may happen quickly or take some time, depending on the type of child the family is open to fostering. While waiting, it is important to get your home ready and do some research into the resources available to you and your foster child. When the time comes, a social worker will call with information about the child. The family then may evaluate if the child is a good fit for them and their home and then respond accordingly. It is okay to turn down a placement if you feel it is not right, and foster families will not be penalized for turning down a placement. Understanding what you can and cannot provide is an important part of being a foster parent.
If you say yes to a placement, the social worker will bring the foster child to your home. When the child arrives, no matter what his or her age, take some time to show the child around the house. Show him the bathroom, where his bedroom will be, and where he can find snacks and drinks should he be hungry or thirsty. Welcoming a new child into your home can be daunting, but it is important to remember the child is just as nervous (if not more so!) than you. Know that it will take some time for you both to adjust and be prepared for lots of small steps rather than one big leap towards a connection for your new foster child.
Resources for Foster Families
Every foster family will receive financial support for their foster child. This is not payment for the foster parents but rather a daily per diem designed to off-set the cost of clothing, food, monthly allowance for the foster child, and other personal items for that child. In Louisiana foster care, foster families receive between $467 – $501 monthly as a per diem for the foster child. Like all children in the United States foster care system, children in Louisiana foster care will receive Medicaid benefits. Foster children will have their own Medicaid card to cover their medical and dental expenses. Any fees for therapy or other evaluations will be covered by the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.
Perhaps more importantly than financial assistance, there are several support systems throughout Louisiana available to foster families. In particular, Louisiana Fosters, offers suggestions for local businesses and churches to support foster children and their families. The National Foster Parent Association is another great resource with the ability to connect fellow foster parents with one another, both in their immediate area and around the country. Sharing stories and challenges can be a wonderful way to support one another and to seek counsel from those who have “walked the path.” Lastly, foster families should always feel empowered to connect with their social worker at any time. If your foster child’s behavior seems off, if you have concerns about their health, or if you have any questions at any time, contact your social worker. That is what they are there for and contacting them early on can be the difference between an easier fix and a potentially larger problem.
Adopting from Foster Care
Though family reunification is always the goal of any foster care situation, sometimes reunification is not possible. In these instances, the parental rights of the child’s guardians will be terminated in a court of law. At that time, the child essentially becomes a ward of the state and is then eligible for adoption. In the Louisiana foster care system, there are 500 kids waiting to be adopted from foster care. Of these 500, 145 of them have no dedicated families at this time. Families interested in adopting from foster care can complete their adoption certification at the same time as they complete their foster care certification. Once certified, a state-licensed social worker may identify a child who they believe might be a good fit for the family to foster to adopt. Alternatively, a family may self-identify a child on the Louisiana photolisting page or through a site, such as Adoption.com. Thanks to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) families do not have to reside in the state of Louisiana in order to adopt from there.
The decision to become a foster parent is not an easy one. It takes patience, perseverance, an open heart, and an open mind. Fostering is not without its challenges, but the chance to make a real difference in a child’s life at a time when she is at her most vulnerable can be incredibly rewarding. Feel like Louisiana foster care parenting might be right for you? Visit the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services to get started on your journey.