Thinking about becoming a foster parent but you just aren’t sure where to begin? It’s okay to be overwhelmed at first. Choosing to become a parent is a big deal, no matter how your child comes to you. Unlike “traditional” parenthood, becoming a foster parent requires several boxes to be checked before you welcome your new family member home. But if you follow these 123’s of becoming a foster parent - and just take it step by step - the process can feel a lot more manageable and understandable.
As you’re contemplating being a foster parent, check out this roadmap we’ve created to help guide you on your journey to parenthood.
Step 1: Educate Yourself
Ever since you saw the 2009 film The Blind Side, you’ve wanted to foster underprivileged kids. But there’s a lot more that goes into foster care than romanticized Hollywood films may lead you to believe. That’s why it’s crucially important to educate yourself as you start the process of becoming a foster parent - so you have a more realistic idea of what you need to do and what to expect.
Kick off the process by taking our foster parent readiness questionnaire. The questionnaire is a great way to see if you have a solid foundation to start from and if you’re likely to meet the foster parent criteria.
We also recommend reading our post 10 Things Every Foster Parent in Virginia Should Know. You may be surprised to find out, for example, a foster parent has the legal right to file for adoption of any child who has been in their home for 18 continuous months and whose parents’ legal rights have been terminated. The key here is to do your homework and educate yourself as much as possible so you’re prepared and know your rights (NewFound Families can help with that).
Step 2: Find an Agency
After you feel like you’ve done enough research, the next step is to find an agency to work with. Visit the Virginia Department of Social Services website to find agencies in your area. Every step from here will involve working directly with your local agency, so it’s important to get connected with an agency you feel good about. You will be working with them throughout the lifetime of your foster parenting career.
Step 3: Orientation
Once you’ve found the agency that works best for your family, they will schedule an orientation. The whole goal of orientation is to give you the opportunity to learn more about fostering. Bring a notebook and pen so you can write down the answers to any questions you have and take notes about what will be required of you as a foster parent. Listen attentively, ask all the questions you need to ask, and make sure to get clarification when you need it. The orientation is for you, so take full advantage of the moment.
Becoming a foster parent requires attention to detail, and your orientation with the agency you chose will lay out everything you can expect moving forward.
Step 4: Complete the Training
Becoming a foster parent is not unlike training for a 10k race—there are many opportunities to grow and strengthen yourself between your starting point now and when you finally cross that finish line.
Foster parent training usually involves 4-10 classes in which you and your family learn more about how to prepare for bringing your foster child into your home. Children in foster care are there because they have been separated from their families for any variety of reasons. And as you can imagine, that can make these children feel anywhere from sad and lonely to angry. So, it’s understandable that they often have unique emotional needs. Each child will present different challenges and need different things from you. Your training will give you the tools you need to receive your foster child with love, empathy, and a whole bucket of useful coping skills.
Step 5: Fill Out the Application
After you’ve completed the training, it’s finally time to apply to become a foster parent! Being able to apply is an exciting milestone in your journey and is truly representative of the effort you’ve put forth so far.
The application is extensive and will cover topics such as your family’s financial situation and credit rating, health, legal history, residency, employment status, and mental stability. Any member of the household over the age of 13 will undergo a background check and get fingerprinted. Answer all questions honestly and to the best of your knowledge to avoid delaying your future foster child’s placement in your home.
Step 6: Home Study
The next step of the process is the home study. This is a face-to-face meeting in your home with a representative from your agency. The representative will want to talk with each member of your family about how your family operates, your relationships to each other and to the people outside the family, what reasons you have for wanting to foster, and to make sure you have a support network in place.
They will also make sure your home is ready for your future foster child. Each foster child needs their own bed, and opposite-gendered children over the age of three need separate bedrooms. Your agency’s representative will also check for any safety concerns in the home and bring them to your attention so you can fix them.
A representative may visit your home multiple times during the full home study process. Remember, they are not there to judge you for your dirty windows or socks on the floor. Just listen to their safety advice and be open and helpful during their visits.
Step 7: The Waiting Game
After you’ve done the research, found an agency, had your orientation, completed your pre-service training, filled out the application, and had your in-person meetings for your home study, all that’s left to do is wait. Waiting is the hardest part! Application approval can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to complete. Your agency’s representative may reach out to you during this time for more information or documentation. It’s all part of the process, so try to take it in stride. Patience is key during this step of the journey.
Step 8: Approval
Congratulations! You’ve been approved as an official foster parent in Virginia. That’s no small feat and is certainly reason for celebration! Once you’ve been approved, a foster child who meets your family’s abilities—as outlined during the application and home study process—will be placed under your care by your agency. This moment is exactly what you have worked so hard for. Don’t let fears of not being the perfect foster parent get in your way or keep you from enjoying the excitement.
Step 9: Continuing Education and Community Involvement
Now that your foster child has been placed in your care, you’ll actually continue to work with your agency. Through them, you’ll have access to resources and classes to help you meet the unique needs of your foster child.
It’s also a great idea to get connected with local support groups for foster families in your area. You can find a support group nearest you on our website here. Getting connected with other families will ensure you always have a team of people supporting you and your family for the duration of your foster care journey. If there’s not one near you, we are happy to help you get one started. Learn more about our Trailblazers program here.
When you think about the difference you can make to a child - and the difference that child can make in your life, too - these steps seem small. They’re just part of the journey, the way any new parent reads the parenting books, buys the car seats, and prepares to welcome any child into their family. Ready to get started? Just start with steps 1 and 2. Take your time, talk to people in the foster care system who can give you their perspectives - and start the process of discovering if being a foster parent is the right choice for you. Don’t forget, NewFound Families is here for you every step of the way! Become a member, download our Getting Started Manual, and join our Support Group Chats.