Is there a great need for more foster parents?
Thank you for your interest in becoming a foster parent. There are more than 14,000 Arizona children in foster care, but there are only around 4,500 licensed foster families. What!? Yes, that's right. There are roughly 4 children in care for every licensed foster family.
What do foster parents do?
Foster parents provide a temporary home for children who cannot live at safely at home and ensure the child’s daily living needs are met, including the child’s physical, developmental, educational, social and emotional growth. In most cases, the State of Arizona is the child's legal guardian.
Who are the children and why are they in foster care?
Children of all ages come into foster care, through no fault of their own. More than 80 percent of the children have come into foster care because they have experienced neglect in their home. Some children, whose mothers used drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, may come into care immediately upon birth. Others may come into care as older children. There are also teens in foster care who are in need loving homes.
Are the children’s behaviors difficult?
Children who come into foster care may have experienced bad things. Some children have witnessed things you would never let your own children see on TV, but these children have experienced them in person. And regardless of what they have experienced, just the fact that they had to be removed from their homes and everything that is familiar to them — their toys, their friends, their school and sometimes their brothers and sisters — is traumatic. But they are still children.
Think about how you feel when you have had to face a major loss. It's really hard to understand what's happening and why it had to happen. Now imagine you're going through that at the age of five. If grown-ups can't deal with stuff sometimes, we can't expect children to do better. When children don't have the words to express their emotions, they act out. They may be angry. They may lapse back to baby-like behaviors, including wetting the bed. Not because they're bad, but because they don't have any other way to express their grief. Yes, it can be challenging, but you will not be out there alone. You will have people supporting you, encouraging you, and helping you know how to best help these kiddos.
How long are children in foster care?
Foster care is intended to be temporary. The goal of the Arizona Department of Child Safety (ADCS) is for the children to go home as soon as their parents fix the situation that made it unsafe for the children to be in their homes. Sometimes the children are able to return home, or reunify, very quickly. The case plan goal of more than half of the children is care is to either reunify with their parents or live with other relatives.
Other times, particularly when substance abuse is involved, it may take parents longer to remedy the situation. These children may be in foster care for months. Currently it is estimated that for more than 70 percent of the children coming into care, their parent’s drug use is a factor.
What happens if the children cannot return home?
If it becomes apparent that the children’s parents will never be able to provide a safe environment, the Court may sever the rights of the parents. ADCS then works to find an adoptive family for the children. If there are relatives who are able to safely care for the children, they will likely be the first choice to adopt the children. The next likely priority is given to the children’s current foster parents. If neither of these are possibilities, ADCS will look for significant relationships the child has had in the past and further into the community because all children should have a family of their own who will care for them, love them and protect them.
How long does it take to become a foster parent?
Realistically, it takes three to six months, but it could take longer. Some of it depends on how much you enjoy completing paperwork and how quickly you return all the completed forms!
What are the requirements for becoming a foster parent?
Foster parents have to:
Be over the age of 21.
Be able to appropriately care for children.
Be able to pass a criminal background check and receive a fingerprint clearance card. (This applies to all adults living in the household or anyone outside of the household who will have regular contact with the child in the home.)
Successfully complete a home study and a Life Safety Inspection to show that their homes are safe for children.
Pass a medical physical and receive a doctor's certificate that says they are healthy enough to care for someone else's children.
You will think we're poking around in all your personal affairs — and we are! After all, you just wouldn't leave your child with just anybody!!
Do you have to be married?
No, you can be married, single or cohabitating.
Do I have to own my home?
No, you can own or rent, apartments are ok too!
What about medical and dental services for the foster child?
The child is covered by a state health plan.
Will I be compensated?
Yes, you will receive a monthly payment. The amount varies according to the age and needs of the child.
Can I still foster if I work full time?
Yes, however, CPS and some agencies may have age requirements for placing children under the age of four in a home where they will be in full time day care.
Do I have to pay for child care?
Financial aid may be available for day care for working foster parents.
Do I have to meet a certain income level?
No, however, you must be able to meet your family’s financial obligations.
Can I specify the children’s needs I feel I can best care for?
Yes, you care able to specify the age, gender and need level of the child for whom you will be caring.
What is involved in the Home Study?
social history and references
physical and mental health
any court action regarding child abuse
the ability of you and every adult member of your household to successfully pass a fingerprint-based criminal history records check
any other relevant information
Do I need special training?
Yes, and the training is provided at no cost to you. Some people may think they don't need training because they have already raised their own children. But once you're a foster parent you'll be glad you have had the training. You will learn about what it is like to care for children in ADCS custody and how to advocate for your child.
Don't foster parents become too attached to the children they care for?
Some people say they could never do this. That they would become too attached. Good. That's a sign that you're doing it correctly! Yes, you will be sad to see a child leave. You also may be excited to see them finally go back home, to a relative or to their adoptive home. If you're a good foster parent you will grieve.
What's my next step?
In Arizona DCS contracts with private agencies to train, license and supervise our foster families, which means you have choices about who you want to work with. DCS awarded these contracts with the goal of giving foster families choices. Some families choose their agency based on additional trainings offered. Some families want to work with a licensing agency that holds a similar view of faith. Some are native Spanish speakers and would prefer an agency that offers bilingual support. You are going to be spending a lot of time up-close and personal with your licensing agency staff and they are going to be the ones you call when you have a question or need support. So it's really to your advantage to take a little time to do your "due diligence." Interview a few agencies (you can access some sample questions here) and see who's the best fit.
Now, if you're ready to get started, visit this link to explore your licensing agency options. Thank you for taking this first step to make a difference in the life of an Arizona child in foster care!