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Today's Family Magazine

Thinking about becoming a foster parent?

Photo credit: ShutterStock / By ESB Professional

Children come into the custody of the Lake County Department of Job & Family Services (LCDJFS) due to a crisis which resulted in the child being a victim of abuse, neglect or dependency.  If the child cannot be placed safely with a relative, LCDJFS is responsible for providing a safe environment for that child.  

It is the philosophy of the LCDJFS that children grow better in families, therefore their primary goal is to find foster care providers who are willing to provide temporary care to children while their families are in crisis.  

The LCDJFS is always in need of new foster parents and understands that the experience can seem overwhelming.  Today's Family recently spoke with Lori O'Brien from LCDJFS who provided answers to questions we have heard from readers and friends about foster parenting.

What are the most common misconceptions about foster parenting?

The biggest miconception held by most foster parents is that of adoption.  Many of those licensed as foster parents are also licensed as adoptive parents.  They ask how fostering to adopt works thinking that if they foster a child that that child will eventually be adopted by them.  We reinforce with them that foster care entails reunification with birth families and that adoption is never a guarantee but rather a concurrent plan for children in the event reunification cannot occur with birth parents or family.

Families who are solely looking to adopt a newborn baby typically are not a good fit for our program and should be working with a private adoption agency.  Many of our newborns who enter foster care are adopted by their foster parents a year or two down the road but it is never a guarantee. 

 What does it take to become a foster parent?

In order to become a licensed foster parent, an applicant must first take 36 hours of training which introduces the applicant to the child welfare system and foster children who come from abuse and neglect backgrounds.  These classes are meant to be educational in nature.  

Once training is completed, the applicant receives an application to fill out.  Once the completed form is returned to the agency, that applicant is assigned a social worker who will work toward licensing the applicant as a foster/adoptive parent.  

The state of Ohio has certain requirements that each home must meet and the assessor will ensure that the home meets all paperwork, safety and interview requirements before licensure.  Some requirements include the applicant and all adult household members to have a criminal background check completed through BCII and the FBI, fire inspections from their fire department on their home, completing paperwork like financial forms, receiving three references about the applicant from friends and family and completing physicals with their doctor. 

Can single people, nonmarried couples or gay couples be foster parents?

Anybody can apply to be a foster parent regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.  Foster children come from diverse backgrounds so it is important to have a diverse group of foster parents with different strengths to choose from in order to make the best possible placement for children.  We have had children placed and adopted by single people as well as gay couples.  The most important thing is they have the ability to provide a safe, stable and a loving environment for the children.  Foster parents are ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help children. 

Individuals who are willing to foster young adults are really important and Lake County cannot have enough foster parents willing to guide and mentor teens.

 Can I choose the age and sex of the child I take in to my home?

Yes, applicants can choose the characteristics of the child to be placed into their home.  It will be up to the applicant and social worker to ensure that their home is equipped per state guidelines for the child they are looking to foster.  

For example, if an applicant wanted to foster older children, the assessor would make sure that the applicant had the proper bedding for an older teen and received education about their need to work with this child on independent living skills.  Additionally, a social worker will contact the foster parent to discuss the child’s characteristics and the foster parent makes the decision if the child is a good fit for their family. 

 What if the child becomes too much for me to manage?

When a child enters into foster care, there are community and agency supports put into place to help the child and the foster parent adjust to the child’s transition into the home.  There will always be a transition that both the child and the foster parent need to work through.  Each foster parent has their own social worker for support.  The foster parents can also use community supports for child specific assistance like counseling or developmental coaching.  

Lake County works very hard to support foster parents through the transitional period to prevent the child from having to experience another change.  At times, however, the child’s needs are too much for a foster parent to manage for a variety of reasons.  In this event, we as an agency try to make a smooth transition for the child from the foster parent’s home to their next placement.  The most important concept is to try to make a good placement choice in the beginning so a child does not have to move and experience more trauma.   

 Is there any financial assistance available to foster a child?

Yes, licensed foster parents receive a monthly allowance to meet the needs of the child placed in their home.   They can use this allowance to meet the child’s needs, get them involved in hobbies/clubs through school, help pay the increases to groceries in their home, etc.  The agency also helps reimburse for other needs such as clothing, graduation expenses, mileage for children with high medical needs who need regular treatment, etc.  Foster children are also placed on Medicaid to meet their medical needs.

How long do children usually stay in foster care?

A child’s length of stay in foster care is unpredictable as it relies on many different factors.  The average stay in foster care is anywhere between 9-12 months. 

 How often does fostering lead to adoption?

When a child is placed with a foster parent, typically we have already tried to find family who will care for the child.  The parents are provided clear directives from a court order on things they need to successfully accomplish in order to provide a safe return of their child.  If the parents are not able to accomplish these tasks in a time period ranging from 12-24 months, the court may grant the agency permanent custody which means the parents have no further rights over their child.  

When permanent custody is granted, this agency seeks a permanent home for the child.  In most situations, since the child has resided and bonded with their foster parents for the last 12-24 months, the foster parents would be first choice if they desire adoption and if the placement is in the best interest of the child.  The majority of foster children adopted in Lake County are adopted by their foster parents. 

If you would like to learn more about fostering and adoption, contact the Lake County Department of Job & Family Services at (440) 350-4128.

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