That timeless parenting phrase — “it takes a village” — is never more applicable than when discussing foster care. Hamilton County Job and Family Services (HCJFS) defines a foster parent as “someone who takes care, temporarily, of a child … they do everything for a child that a parent would do, from taking them to doctor’s appointments, to their sporting events and helping them with their homework.”
If you have ever considered taking on the important role of fostering, then read on to learn where to begin:
Are We Ready?
As you can expect, the role of foster parent takes a great amount of mental and emotional strength, both of which should be considered before beginning the licensing process. Maddie Wentling of Hope’s Closet, a non-profit that works passionately with foster families in the Cincinnati area, shares that when it comes to fostering, there really is no perfect time.
“There is really never a perfect time to foster, just like there’s never a perfect time to get married or have a baby,” Wentling says. While the timing may never be ideal, there are a few life situations to keep in mind before beginning the process. If you are planning for a big life change, such as moving or getting a new job, you may want to wait until things are settled before getting started.
While it’s important to evaluate your personal mental and emotional status, also consider the same of any children you already have in your family.
“It would be a good idea to talk with them to make sure they understand what fostering is and how it will affect their lives,” Wentling says. If you’re concerned about the emotional aspect of foster parenting, keep in mind that this will also be addressed in the extensive training, home studies and ongoing support available throughout the process.
Moira Weir, director of Hamilton County Job and Family Services, adds that foster parents can come from all backgrounds and experiences. “They need the desire to help the children in their care learn and grow, and they must be willing to work with the birth parents, because foster care is temporary,” Weir says. “But that time you have with the child will have a life-long effect.”
Where Do We Start?
When you are ready to begin the course to become a foster parent, your first step is to visit your county’s job and family services (or children’s services) website. (For the Cincinnati area in Hamilton County, that would be Hamilton County Job and Family Services: www.hckids.org) Each county has its own process and requirements, and every detail is laid out for you on the site. You can foster children in a county different from where you live, but you’ll want to be sure to check out that county’s procedures.
In Hamilton County, Job and Family Services does not license families for foster care; rather, they partner with other community agencies that provide these services.
Once you’ve selected an agency and reached out to them, you can expect to take 30-plus hours of classes that will cover topics such as effective discipline, policies and how to care for children who have been through very trying situations. The home study process then begins, and this can take anywhere from four to six months. Once you become licensed foster parents, you will be required to take 40 hours of training every two years to remain licensed.
What Else Should We Know?
While becoming a foster parent is a lengthy and involved process, it is necessary to ensure it is right for both the potential parents and children. HCJFS refers to foster parenting as an “adventure,” and it is.
“[Foster parenting] is always worth the pain and fear of losing a child,” Wentling says. “These children need attachment and love way more than we need to be protected from it.”
If you’ve ever considered becoming a foster parent, remember that you do not have to be married, have your own children, or be wealthy. You only need to have a desire to help the children placed in your care and a passion for making a difference.
“Every child is one caring adult away from being a success story,” Wentling says. “And as a foster parent, we can influence the trajectory of a child’s life forever, even if they’re with us for a short time.”