Unfortunately, there are many children who cannot safely live with their parents. Children who have been neglected or abused are primarily the ones who are placed in this program, although other circumstances and situations occur which necessitate this action.
The children who need temporary and permanent families are all ages, races and ethnicities. They include teenagers, toddlers, infants, children with special behavioral and medical needs and sibling groups.
How is adoption different from foster care?
When children are not able to safely live with their biological family, Department of Child Safety may become involved and place the child in foster care. Foster care is only a temporary living arrangement for the child, while the children's parents work to remedy the unsafe situation. The activities and changes that the parents need to complete to have their children returned is called a case plan. You may hear "the case plan is reunification" when the goal is to reunite the children with their parents. If the parents are not able to remedy an unsafe situation and the children cannot return home, the case plan goal may change to adoption. In this case, the court terminates the rights of the parents and the child is said to be "free for adoption." Most children who become free for adoption are adopted either by a member of their extended family or by their foster parents. For other children, an adoptive family - perhaps your family - is sought. In Arizona, families are certified by the court to adopt. The certification process is similar to foster care licensure and includes a fingerprint-based criminal history records check, home study and references. Adoption is a legal process that takes place in the court and makes the child a permanent member of the family.
Do I need a license to be a foster or adoptive parent?
Foster parents need to be licensed by Arizona Department of Child Safety, Office of Licensing and Regulation (OLR). Adoptive parents need to be certified by the Court. The process of being licensed or certified is similar.
Family members caring for children who are in Department of Child Safety (DCS) custody may or may not be licensed, although they will be eligible for additional resources if they are licensed. Non-licensed kinship care providers will still have to pass a home safety inspection (called a Life Safety Inspection).
Who will I work with as a foster parent?
As a foster parent, you will be working with many different professionals including case workers, mental health professionals, doctors, lawyers and others depending on the needs of the child placed with you. You will be asked to attend meetings with a groups of people and it's important for you to be prepared to participate. You will have valuable insight into the child's needs and the group needs to hear what you have to say. You may also be asked to communicate with and work with the child's birth parents. Many new foster parents are nervous about meeting the child's birth family, but in time you may find that you are fostering or mentoring the whole family. This is important because foster parents are a big part of the family reunification process.