10 Steps to Becoming a Foster Parent
Illustrations by Brittany Viklund
For the past seven months, MetroFamily has been familiarizing our readers with foster care in Oklahoma City. Our hope is that through education of Oklahoma’s foster care needs, our readers can help provide homes for the thousands of children in state custody.
If you’re considering opening your home to a foster child in need, you probably want to know exactly what to expect. Every case is different, but here’s a handy list of basic steps to becoming a foster parent. Experts agree the process can take three to four months.
1. Now that you have decided to become a foster parent, contact the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) or one of several private agencies (a list is available on page 18) for an orientation or initial meeting to help you prepare for your new role.
2. To become a certified foster parent, an agency specialist will provide you with an application and discuss the certification process with you. While every case differs, the goal is to complete the entire process within 90 days.
3. You’ll need to provide an assortment of paperwork to start your certification process. Paperwork you'll need to get started:
- copy of social security card
- paycheck stubs
- copy of marriage license (if applicable)
- copy of divorce decree (if applicable)
- copy of driver’s license
- copy of pet vaccinations (if applicable)
- copy of immunization records (if applicable)
- copy of military discharge (if applicable)
4. Background checks will be completed for every person in the home age 18 and older by The Department of Public Safety, Child Welfare and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations.
5. A home study will be conducted by someone from your agency or their selected partner once all required documents and forms have been completed.
While many people are intimidated by the home study, it is nothing to fear. The home study includes interviews of friends and family of the potential foster parents.
The home study usually includes three to four home visits. Although it can feel intrusive, an in-depth home study is needed to determine someone’s motivation for fostering and ensure the safety and well-being of foster children. It’s an assessment tool to ensure quality care will be provided for all the children in the temporary custody of the state.
6. Next, you will be enrolled in a training program that will educate you on everything from transitioning a foster child into your home to understanding the OKDHS Child Welfare System as a whole. The training consists of 27 hours total, usually presented in a classroom setting.
In addition to learning about a variety of parenting topics, an added benefit of the training classes is that you have an opportunity to meet other foster parents and build a circle of other people who know what it’s like to foster and can offer advice and wisdom.
7. Once the home study is complete and all forms and background checks have been completed, the agency specialist will have you sign a contract. Once that is complete, you are ready for your first placement.
8. The ideal foster parent would be open to taking children of all ages and backgrounds but foster parents certainly have an opportunity to specify things like age and gender. OKDHS and private agencies want to make sure families are as successful as possible in accepting placements, so you will be helped along the way to determine what placements would be best for you. This includes whether or not you’re open to taking sibling groups or children with medical conditions or behavioral problems.
Foster parents can be very specific about what kind of child they will take, including race, age and gender. It’s important for foster parents to be honest with themselves about what they can or cannot handle as it is traumatic for a child to be removed from a foster home if the placement isn’t a good fit.
Some foster parents prefer not to foster sibling groups, but special care is taken to keep sibling groups together through foster care, as evidence shows children do better when they maintain family relationships while in custody.
While most foster parents request babies, the population with the greatest need in the Oklahoma City area is children age 6-12, with 501 in custody as of Jan. 25, 2016. There are 459 children in custody between the ages of 0 and 2, 341 in custody between the ages of 3 and 5 and 311 in custody who are age 13 or older. Teenagers continue to be the hardest population to place but one of the most important age ranges to serve because aging out of the system without support can be incredibly difficult.
9. The agency specialist will contact you to let you know information about the available child or children.
10. Once you are matched with a child, placement is arranged.
Upon and after placement, your agency specialist as well as an OKDHS permanency planning worker will meet with you and this child periodically throughout the placement period.
The permanency planning worker knows the most about the child and he or she will be working with that child’s family on reunification efforts in most cases. The worker will work closely with you on visitation and other child-related needs.
Ready to take the next step in your foster care journey? Get started by contacting a foster care agency in Oklahoma City.
[Editor's Note: The order and timing of some of these steps may differ depending on situation and agency. Special thanks to Neika Harris at OKDHS and Judith Cope at Sunbeam Family Services for contributing to this list.]