As I reflect on over 20 years serving as a foster care worker, what comes to mind first are the foster parents. I’ve recruited, trained, licensed, counseled, laughed and cried with foster parents and enjoyed most every moment.
Whether you are reading this as a person interested in fostering, an agency with a foster care program, a professional in the field, a child advocate, or just found this blog searching the web, I assure you my comments come from experience not only as a foster care worker but also as a former foster parent.
Foster parents are one of the most undervalued commodities in our country and we need a continuous growing pool of them. With over 437,000 children currently in foster care across the U.S., the need for foster parents is tremendous nationally. Foster parents are our safety net for abused and neglected children, and the system is challenged with recruiting, supporting and retaining them.
The experience of a foster parent can’t be measured by conventional methods. The emphasis our society puts on academic degrees and professional success leaves out the intangibles. A foster parent’s value is in their devotion, their emotional and physical commitment to the well-being of a vulnerable child.
Who makes a great foster parent? A kind and compassionate person who has the desire to parent, teach, and love someone else’s children. We all may know people who could fulfill those requirements, but then there’s the hard fact that these kids are part of a system and a challenging one at that. The bureaucracy that faces foster parents often discounts their input even if it’s clear that they are the ones who know best what will help the children in their care.
If you are interested in possibly becoming a foster parent, here are some important tips to keep in mind:
- Check to see that the foster family agency holds a national accreditation by either CARF, Council on Accreditation (COA) or the Joint Commission – this tells you that the organization values best practice standards that are well above state minimum rules and regulations. I have worked for several agencies in my career, some nationally accredited and some not. The difference was notable in areas of support to foster parents, staff, and overall agency professionalism.
- Accredited agencies provide outstanding support to foster parents and additional child-specific training.
- Ask to speak with other foster parents, attend an orientation, and meet with the program director.
- Ask to see the agency’s program goals and outcomes for foster care.
- See how foster parents are included in organizational quality improvement process.
- If you are looking at a nonprofit agency see what the composition of the board of directors is and if they are involved in activities to support foster parents.
- Review a non-profit agency’s IRS form 990, which are available online at https://www.guidestar.org.
- With a for-profit agency, you may want to research the leadership team.
May Is National Foster Care Month. With that, we should all take the time to recognize that we each can play a part in enhancing the lives of children and youth in foster care. Hats off to all of the foster parents out there!