Before deciding to become a foster parent, it is important to understand the role you will play. A foster parent becomes the primary caregiver for displaced children at a very vulnerable time in their lives. It is important that a foster parent be prepared to work with the state to advocate for the child’s needs and provide a place of comfort and security for them. Details about a foster parent’s role are taught during the licensing process. An overview is given here.
Basic Needs
Many foster children come in to care with little more than the clothing that they are wearing. Foster parents are expected to clothe them appropriately using the stipend provided by the state. There are also many charities specifically for foster children that help to provide shoes, clothes, and developmentally appropriate toys.
Although a foster child does not need to have their own room, they do need their own bed and a dresser (or equivalent). During the home inspection, which takes place during the licensing process, the social worker will help you determine what you need.
Foster children age five and under are eligible to be enrolled in WIC (Women, Infants and Children), which is a government run organization that issues monthly vouchers you can use in the grocery store for foods such as milk, cheese, cereal, or formula for babies.
Childcare is covered by the state. The childcare facility must be licensed by the state or approved by the case manager. If the facility you choose charges more than the amount allotted by the state, you may be expected to pay the difference.
Education
Children in foster care may be behind in their education, either because they have not regularly attended school or because their education was not properly supported. A foster parent of school aged children is responsible to make sure that the child is enrolled in school and that they have an appropriate educational plan. Although the state does try to have a child stay at the same school they were enrolled in prior to entering the state system, this is not always possible. Homeschooling can also be an option with the approval of the case manager.
Physical and Mental Health
Foster parents are asked to make a doctor’s appointment for the child as soon as possible after placement. As some children are taken on an emergency basis, the case manager may not have had adequate time to assess their health, and it can take several days for any prior health records to become available. Foster children with regular medications ideally will come with a supply, but this too depends on what was available to the case manager when they were taken into care. Any major medical decisions for the child are made by the state.
Due to the trauma associated with being apart from their family and the possibility of ongoing abuse and neglect prior to being taken into care, foster children may need counseling or therapy. An intake specialist from the state is assigned to help assess these needs. As a foster parent has the most interaction with the child, it is up to the foster parent to report any behaviors that may necessitate further action. Behavioral health programs and therapies are financially backed by the state.
Protection
Foster parents are asked to act in the best interest of a foster child’s safety. Biological parents are not given foster parents personal information by the state without consent. The case manager can help to relay pertinent information without any breach in privacy. Much of the case information given by the state to foster parents is given in confidentiality and should be kept private.
It is also critical to protect the tender emotions of the child involved. It is important to support the child’s bond to their biological family, understand their need to visit with and communicate with their biological parent(s), and maintain their attachments to better keep their sense of self. They must be given time to adjust to their new routines, foods, expectations, and home environment. Religious and cultural ties should also be supported.
Court and Visitations
Foster parents are not expected to attend every court appointment pertaining to the child’s case. The case manager assigned to the child can help you decide whether your personal attendance would be in yours and the child’s best interest. Statements about the child’s wellbeing and progress in care can be conveyed by the case manager or assigned Guardian Ad Litem (the child’s legal representative).
The frequency of visits with the child’s biological family is determined by the courts. The case manager will work with the biological parents to set up a schedule for visitation. Often a case aide is assigned to provide transportation, but a foster parent may be asked to provide some transportation as well depending on circumstances. It is not necessary for the foster parent to be present. The visitations are supervised by state workers.
The case manager will visit the foster parents and foster child at home each month. This is a good time to bring up any concerns in person, discuss the progress of the case, and for the case manager to speak with the child.
Foster parents become the primary caregiver for a child or children in care under the supervision of the state. It is their role to love the child, care for them, and advocate for their needs. Foster parents have a network of support to help them in this vital role. You can make a difference in the life of a child.