14,000 Ohio children currently live in foster care. Foster kids are often transient, moving from temporary home to temporary home after experiencing neglect, abuse or simple bad luck. Many will age out of the foster care system before they ever find a permanent home.
The adults who open their hearts and homes to these children and become a foster family can literally change the course of a life – and possibly provide the first stable, supportive environment a child has ever had. While the path can be difficult, the outcomes can be amazing. If you’ve ever considered making this kind of a commitment, read on for some information on what this process involves.
What are the requirements?
Foster parents are part of a vast, diverse community. In fact, people of all backgrounds are encouraged to apply. The one common link between all candidates is a true desire to make a positive difference in the life of a child.
Ohio guidelines include:
- –A minimum age of 21
- –Financially stable
- –Able to pass local, state and federal background checks and complete all of the required training classes and paperwork
- –A homeowner or renter
It’s important to note that foster parents do not necessarily need to be married or heterosexual. They may also be single or cohabitating with a stable partner.
Other requirements include medical and psychological screens, criminal background checks and a home inspection to ensure fire safety codes are being enforced. Foster parents must complete pre-placement and continuing training as well. Pre-placement training is typically a 36-hour course in Ohio, which can often be taken on evenings and weekends.
Some foster parents hope to eventually adopt children who need a permanent home. Anne Arbaugh, Clermont County Foster Care Supervisor, says that while this does happen, the goal is that hopefully a child and his parents will be able to reunite.
Why do foster parents do it?
Robyn Bastin, Licensing Supervisor at Lighthouse Youth Services, says some people simply feel a calling to provide foster care. “They are often faith-based and feel that God has a plan for their lives and that helping children abused and neglected is part of the plan,” she explains. “They often get into fostering because their family members or friends are doing it as well.”
Bastin says the process can seem intimidating. “People are sometimes scared away from fostering because the news often portrays only the negative,” she adds. “The process to get licensed is long and intrusive. Fostering is a commitment not to be taken lightly.”
Holly Schlaack, founder and executive director of Invisible Kids, a local nonprofit organization focused on addressing issues within the foster care system, says, “Foster parents cannot control anything including decisions made on a child’s behalf, when a child leaves, or what services and visitation schedules are offered. It’s hard. It takes a ton of intangibles like flexibility, patience, communication skills, family and community support and love.”
Sarah Terrell, a local resident who recently became a foster parent points to a problem she didn’t anticipate: her own parenting style. “When we received our first placement, we quickly realized that the type of parenting we have done with our biological children simply didn’t work for our foster child.” However, Terrell adds that her local foster parenting community has been very supportive. “It was good to hear others in the same boat offer insights and encouragement.” Her family has decided to limit their foster placements to respite (short-term) care for now, an option many foster parents take.
Ultimately, says Arbaugh, “the main reason people decide to become foster parents is to help vulnerable children in our communities who need a safe place to stay when their families are unable to care for them.”
Foster parents must be licensed by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services through their county public children services agency (PCSA) or a private agency certified by ODJFS to approve and recommend foster parents.
Brandy Pendleton, Director of Social Services at The Bair Foundation offers this advice: “Start contacting local licensing agencies to determine which agency you feel would be the best fit for your family. Once you have connected with an agency that you feel good about, get registered for training.”
The decision to foster is a major one. Take the time to learn about the process and evaluate if you are truly ready for the obligation it requires. If you decide to make this commitment, the impact you have on a child’s life can be tremendous – as well as your foster son or daughter’s impact on you.