Requirements to Become a Foster Parent
- What are the requirements for certifying and approving foster homes?
- What kind of training is involved with becoming a foster parent?
- How do I financially support a foster child?
Children who are placed in foster boarding homes are subject to standards set by state laws and regulations governing those homes. According to the regulations, a home study must evaluate the prospective foster parent’s ability to address the child’s health and safety. Foster boarding homes must be in compliance with criteria concerning physical condition, safety, resources, character, motivation, and willingness to cooperate with the agency or district in providing services needed and carrying out the permanency plan.
The prospective foster home must be evaluated and determined to meet basic physical, health, and safety requirements. Homefinders visit prospective foster parents at home and collect detailed information about the applicants as well as other household members and potential caregivers for the child. In general, prospective foster parents are asked about:
- Experience with raising children.
- Experience with issues of child abuse or neglect.
- Approach to discipline.
- Awareness of the importance of measures that provide a safe environment for children.
- Awareness of the potential impact of foster parenting on family members and the family’s current life style.
- Ability and interest in being a partner in carrying out the permanency plan.
Foster homes are “certified” (the term used for non-relative homes) or “approved” (the term used for relatives) according to the same standards.
A home study and evaluation of the members of the foster family household or the relative’s family household must determine compliance with all of the following criteria for certification or approval:
- Age: Each foster parent must be over the age of 21.
- Health: Each member of the household of the foster family must be in good physical and mental health and free from communicable diseases. However, physical handicaps or illness of foster parents or members of their household must be in consideration only as they affect the ability to provide adequate care to foster children or may affect an individual child’s adjustment to the foster family. Cases must be evaluated on an individual basis with assistance of a medical consultant when indicated. A written report from a physician on the health of a family, including a complete physical examination of the applicant, must be filed with the agency initially and biennially thereafter. Additional medical reports must be furnished upon the request of either the agency worker or the foster parent.
- Employment: Employment of a foster parent outside the home must be permitted when there are suitable plans for the care and supervision of the child at all times, including after school and during the summer. Such plans must be made part of the foster family record and must receive prior agency approval, unless only one of the two foster parents is working outside the home.
- Marital Status: The marital status of an applicant may be a factor in determining whether or not a certification or approval will be granted only as it affects the ability to provide adequate care to foster children. Changes in marital status must be reported to the authorized agency; existing certificates or letters of approval may be revoked, and new certificates or letters of approval issued consistent with the best interests of the child.
- Character: Each applicant for certification or approval must be required to provide the agency with the names of three persons who may be contacted for references. The agency must seek signed statements from these individuals attesting to the applicant’s moral character, mature judgment, ability to manage financial resources, and capacity for developing a meaningful relationship with children, or interview the individuals in person.
- Ability and Motivation: The agency must explore each
applicant’s ability to be a foster parent and must discuss the following
- The reasons a person seeks to become a foster parent.
- The understanding of the foster parent role, including the responsibilities of foster parents in relation to the child, the agency, and the family.
- The person’s concerns and questions about foster care services.
- The person’s psychological readiness to assume responsibility for a child and his/her ability to provide for a child’s physical and emotional needs.
- The agency’s role and authority to supervise the placement.
- The attitudes that each person who would be sharing living accommodations with the child in foster care has about foster care and his/her concept of a foster child's role in the family.
- The awareness of the impact that foster care responsibilities have upon family life, relationships, and current lifestyle.
- The principles related to the development and discipline of children and the need of each child for guidance, a supportive relationship, appropriate stimulation, and the opportunity to identify with a parent or surrogate whose history reflects a value system that is socially constructive.
- A person’s self-assessment of his/her capacity to provide a child with a stable and meaningful relationship.
Kinship (Relative Foster Care):
Kinship (relative) foster homes are approved according to the above criteria to provide foster care for a specific child by a relative within the second or third degree to the parent(s) or stepparent(s) of the child.
A relative within the second or third degree to the parent(s) or stepparent(s) of a child refers to those relatives who are related to the parent(s) or stepparent(s) through blood or marriage either in the first, second, or third degree in the kinship line. A relative within the second or third degree of a parent includes the following:
- Grandparents of the child.
- Great-grandparents of the child.
- Aunts and uncles of the child, including the spouses of the aunts or uncles.
- Siblings of the child.
- Great-aunts and great-uncles of the child, including the spouses of the great-aunts or great-uncles.
- First cousins of the child, including the spouses of the cousins.
- Great-great grandparents of the child.
- An unrelated person where placement with such person allows half-siblings to remain together in an unapproved foster home, and the parents or stepparents of one of the half-siblings is related to such person in the second or third degree.
State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment Check:
All applicants must complete the forms necessary to determine whether the applicant and any person 18 years of age or older who lives in the house of the applicant is the subject of an indicated child abuse maltreatment report on file with the State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR) in New York State, and if the applicant or any other person 18 years of age or older who lives in the home of the applicant lived in another state in the five years preceding the application, to obtain such information maintained by the state's child abuse and maltreatment register in each state of previous residency.
Criminal History Record Check:
As part of the required criminal history record check with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), an agency must notify the prospective foster parents and each person over the age of 18 who is currently living in the home of how to have their fingerprints taken and the agency must obtain the results of the criminal history record checks from OCFS before the foster parent is finally approved or certified for the placement of a foster child. At the time a foster parent applies for renewal of their approval or certification, the same process takes place for each person over the age of 18 who is currently living in the home who has not previously had a criminal history record check.
As part of the criminal history record check process, DCJS conducts a search of its database,as does the FBI. The fingerprints are kept on file at DCJS and the certifying/approving agency would be notified should there be an arrest or conviction reported in the future to DCJS. The fingerprints are not maintained by the FBI.
Depending on the types of crimes listed in the criminal history, several actions could be taken:
- The application is rejected.
- The foster home is decertified; or approval of the kinship foster home is revoked.
- The foster child is removed from the foster home.
When a criminal history record of the foster parent or any other person over the age of 18 who lives in the home reveals a charge or conviction of any crime, the agency must perform a safety assessment of the conditions in the home. This includes:
- Whether the subject of the charge or conviction lives in the household.
- The extent to which the individual may have contact with the foster child or other children living in the household.
- Status, date, and nature of the criminal charge or conviction.
The agency must take all appropriate steps to protect the health and safety of the child or children, including removal from the home or denial of the application. The agency must document the safety assessment and the steps and actions taken to protect the health and safety of the child.
Foster parent orientation:
Foster parent orientation takes place soon after the completed application is received. Orientation may take place as part of an individual session or in a group training program. Whenever possible, one-to-one orientation should take place in the applicant’s home during the home study.
Completion of the certification and approval process:
Foster parents are certified/approved when the following are completed:
- The home study;
- The SCR clearance; and
- The criminal history record review process, including fingerprinting.
The home study process should be completed within 60 days from the date the completed application from the prospective foster parent is received.
Agencies must provide training for foster parents to help them meet the needs of children in their care, receive information on technique in managing behavior and preventing abuse and neglect, and understand the expectations of the agency.
New foster parents need preparation and training to be effective in their role. Foster parents who have been accepted for a home study, or relatives who are in the process of a home study must be oriented to:
- The social, family, and personal problems that lead to family breakdown and the need for the placement of children.
- The problems and reactions of children upon separation, and the function and responsibility of the foster family in relation to the child, the parents, and the agency staff.
- The agency policy and practice to have defined goals to achieve permanency for each child entering the foster care system.
- The authority of the local social services districts, the Office of Children and Family Services, and the Family Court to supervise the agency's practice.
- The nature of the relationship of agency staff to foster parents and children, including definitions of the function and responsibility of the caseworkers assigned to the children and their families.
- The payments to foster parents for care and expenses; the definition of foster family care; and certification or approval of the home.
- The rights and responsibilities of a foster parent as defined by a letter of understanding that must be executed at the time of certification or approval.
Foster parents who receive a higher level of board rate are required to actively participate in annual training.
Many counties and agencies use the Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting/Group Preparation and Selection (MAPP/GPS) Pre-Certification Training Program. Although it is not required by the Office of Children and Family Services, it is the recommended selection and preparation program.
The MAPP approach to foster parenting encourages open communication and trust among foster families, adoptive families, birth families and casework staff.
The MAPP program examines 12 criteria or skills necessary for successful foster/adoptive parenting. Through role-playing, personal profiles, and other techniques, the homefinder and the applicant make mutual decisions about foster parenting.
Objectives of the training for prospective foster and adoptive parents are:
- Learning what to expect and what services are available.
- Looking at one’s own strengths and needs.
- Developing skills in giving love and attention to a troubled child.
- Learning about stages of child development.
- Helping children manage behavior.
- Understanding the roles and responsibilities of teamwork.
- Helping foster parents develop a good understanding of the child's parents.
In addition to the MAPP/GPS training provided to new and prospective foster parents, in some agencies, a Mini-MAPP training program is available to existing foster parents so that they too can learn the approach.
Other training for foster parents:
Other training may be available to support you in your role as a foster parent. Your local department of social services or other local agency may offer in-service training session for foster parents, arranged or conducted by staff, with guest speakers from community hospitals, schools, and local police and fire departments. Be on the lookout for such opportunities and ask your caseworker about them.
Special training may also be available. Medical and mental health training can help foster parents manage certain issues and learn skills in dealing with them. Issues could include: child and adolescent development and behavior; emotional effects of child abuse and neglect; caring for a teen parent and her infant; domestic violence; loss and separation; behavior management; effects of drug and alcohol abuse; and depression.
Appropriate training can support foster parents with skills in being sensitive to signs of emotional distress in children and skills in crisis counseling. Such knowledge should help foster parents feel more confident in their role.
Health education programs for foster parents are valuable in covering many topics: childhood health requirements (e.g. immunization schedule); common health problems and dealing with emergencies; proper administration of medication and taking of a child’s temperature; general infant, child, and adolescent health care issues; family planning and sex education; information on common chronic diseases (asthma, sickle cell anemia, diabetes, etc.); HIV/AIDS education, infection control, and universal precautions; fire safety training in the home; and nutrition and physical fitness.
Board and care rates:
The annual board rate, which is set according to the child’s age, is intended to reimburse foster parents for the cost of caring for the child. Foster parents receive schedules for the current board rate and for payment standards. County departments of social services set their own rates up to the maximum allowed.
There are three foster care payment categories for foster boarding homes: Basic, Special, and Exceptional. Basic foster care payments are made to foster parents who provide care for a child who has no identified special or exceptional needs.
Within 30 days of placement, your local agency may designate the child's needs as basic, special or exceptional. A designation can be changed at any point during placement as the child's needs change.
To receive special or exceptional payments, you will need to show your ability to care for children with special or exceptional conditions through past training and experience or by completing special training. You will need to participate in agency training every year and actively participate in case conferences. You must be able to work with the professionals involved in the child’s treatment plan and to accept assistance and guidance in caring for the child.
Special and exceptional rates need to be approved by the local department of social services. Either a caseworker or a foster parent can submit a request for the special or exceptional rate. If the level of difficulty changes (decreases or increases) due to the child's need for care and supervision, the board rate will also change. The services expected of the foster parents will also change.
Information about these designations can be obtained from your local department of social services.
Therapeutic Foster Boarding Home eligibility:
In some agencies and local departments of social services, Therapeutic Foster Boarding Homes are foster homes approved to provide intensive care to certain behaviorally disordered or emotionally disturbed foster children eligible for exceptional care who would otherwise require a higher level of care. These foster parents receive enhanced services from a foster care agency and specialized, ongoing training.
County departments of social services set their own clothing allowance rates up to the maximum allowed. A regular clothing allowance, based on the child’s maximum age, is included with the board rate and is paid as a part of the monthly check. An emergency clothing allowance may be obtained in special situations. If approved, an initial clothing allowance is available for the child at the time of initial placement.
Any clothing purchased for a child in care belongs to the child and should be taken along whenever he or she moves or is returned home. It is expected that a child will leave with sufficient, clean clothes.
A diaper allowance is automatically authorized for children from birth through three years of age. If a child younger than four years old is toilet trained and no longer needs diapers, the foster parents should tell the caseworker and the diaper allowance will be discontinued. If a child only needs diapers during the night, a partial diaper allowance can be authorized. Medical documentation of need is necessary to continue a diaper allowance for the child past the age of four.
Some county departments of social services may make payments for day care, when necessary, for the care and supervision of children in care if the foster parent is employed full-time or part-time. Child care expenses for purposes other than employment are the foster parent’s responsibility. However, foster parents may be reimbursed for child care if attending training.
For additional information about day care for foster parents, please contact your local department of social services.
Information about child care in New York State is available at the Office of Children and Family Services website.
The board and care rate includes the cost of normal transportation.
Transportation provided by foster parents for visits to staff of an authorized agency, the foster child’s parents, siblings living with relatives or in a different foster or adoptive home, and meetings about the child may be reimbursed at a rate set by the county. For children with a goal of return home, the agency must provide transportation assistance (if necessary) to make it possible for visits with their parent(s) at least every two weeks.
Reimbursements to birth parents, legal guardians, other relatives, or significant others for travel to visit children in foster care may be paid at a rate set by the county.
Additional information is available on transportation for medical reasons through your local department of social services.
School expenses, such as books, activity fees, costs of field trips, school club dues, and art supplies may be reimbursed. Special attire for senior proms, graduation, school jewelry or pictures, or religious ceremonies may also be reimbursed.
Tutoring expenses may be reimbursed if the service is remedial, requested in writing by the school and is not available from any other source.
Special recreational/hobby/extracurricular activity expenditures may be reimbursed. This includes music, art and/or dancing lessons not provided in school, and the purchase or rental of equipment; and membership and participation in organized groups, such as the Y, Scouts or Little League.
Day camp or residential summer camp costs, including registration and transportation expenses may be authorized.
Damage or loss of property:
Some agencies may consider compensation to foster parents for damage to and/or loss of personal property caused by a child in their care if the costs are not covered by the foster parents’ insurance.
Extraordinary communication expenses for a child in care to maintain telephone contact with his or her parents and/or siblings may be reimbursed.