Maybe you have been thinking about this for years and now God’s tug on your heart is so great that you can no longer put it off. Or perhaps you just heard someone speak at your church this past weekend and you cannot get the picture of children who need a home out of your head. Whatever the case may be, you are ready to make that move.
Deciding to enter into foster care in Georgia is a big decision and once it is made, it sets off a process that can seem daunting and stifling. Because once we decide to do something, we want to do it now.
After all, the need is immediate – right?
We talk about it all the time. Over and over again we say, “Georgia has a huge need for foster homes.” With 13,000+ children in care at any given time, there are simply not enough foster homes in Georgia to provide a place for these children to live. That means we hear about children who are separated from siblings, placed in institutional care, or even spending time in hotels while they wait on a foster home to open.
If the need is so immediate, why does the process take so long?
In talking with people who want to foster, I liken the process to a pregnancy. You receive the great news that you are pregnant and then….nine months of waiting. However, is it truly waiting? There are preparations to make, books to read, things to research, and so much to learn.
I urge you to look at deciding to foster as you would finding out that you are expecting a child.
Here are my tips on what to expect when you’re expecting: foster care edition.
The question quickly comes after the decision is made: How do we do this?
The first decision to be made is what foster care agency fits with your family. There are a myriad of foster care agencies out there, and while all agencies work toward serving children in care and supporting the foster families that care for them, they all do it in slightly different ways.
In Georgia, you can choose to work directly with the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) or work with a private agency that serves your area. If you live in metro Atlanta or Floyd County, Georgia, we at WinShape Homes would love to hear from you and talk about whether or not we are a fit for your family.
There are many different types of organizations out there – those like WinShape that are faith-based and work with churches, those that are secular, and agencies that serve children with specific needs, just to name a few. A quick Google search for “foster care in my area” will bring up a list to consider. I encourage you to call multiple agencies and talk with them. Find out when they are holding informational sessions and attend to find out what specific services the agency provides.
While all agencies serve foster children, they are not all the same, and while you are fostering you will be working with your agency very closely. It’s like finding the right pediatrician; you want to make sure that they fit well with your family and your family fits well with them. And don’t be afraid to ask questions:
1. How are you different from other agencies?
2. What services do you provide for the foster children?
3. How will you support our family while we foster?
4. Do you work closely with biological parents?
5. How many children do your case managers serve at one time?
6. Will you provide all the pre-service and continuing service training that we need?
7. Are special requirements to foster with your agency?
8. What are the expenses that your agency will reimburse for foster parents?
Once you have picked an agency and attended their information session, you will start the pre-service training process. In Georgia we currently have two types of pre-service training, and the training you receive is directly related to where you live in the state.
Pre-service training is a requirement of the State of Georgia to become an approved foster family, and the classes are 26+ hours long. They take place over the course of several weeks and cover various topics such as abuse awareness, trauma, and behavior management.
Joining a class is a big commitment of your time, but so is fostering. Training can be so much more than checking a box off the list of things that have to be completed. Try to absorb as much of the material as you possibly can.
Even if you have been a parent before, fostering is much different. Children in foster care come from such difficult backgrounds and respond differently than your own biological children. Make sure you are paying attention to the skills that your trainers are teaching you; you will need them!
During this time, you will also meet other families who are starting their fostering journey and be able to get to know them and build support. Fostering is unlike anything else, and you will want to know those who are also in the trenches with you. Pre-service training gives you an opportunity to build those relationships at the front end of the process.
In addition to the agency’s pre-service training, you will also have to complete other trainings as well. Each foster parent is required to become certified in CPR/First Aid. If you have a pool or live in a neighborhood with a pool, you will have to complete water safety training as well. Some agencies require training that is more specialized. Your agency should provide you with options on how to obtain all of the required training classes you will need.
Another aspect of training is self-study. For those who have never fostered before, I recommend the short devotional book Ready or Not by Pam Parish. It gives a true picture of what fostering is. Other books I recommend are:
Fostering Prayer: A 40 Day Guide for Foster Parents by Jessica Mathisen
It is imperative that each agency do their due diligence in vetting their foster parents, and that’s done through the home study process. Children are coming to us from very hard places and have been through so much already. We must make sure that your family is fully prepared to care for these children to reduce the risk of further trauma to them and to your family.
Through this process, we ask for a lot and we ask a lot of questions. By far, this is the most time-consuming part of the process
I’ll be honest, the paperwork is daunting. There are background checks, physicals, financial statements, proof of insurance, pet vaccination records, and references to collect, just to mention a few of the items we need to see.
Then there are the questionnaires that cover a multitude of topics. These documents take time to fill out, schedule and collect, and it doesn’t happen overnight. However, this is where you can help drive the timeline of the process. The faster that you can turn in that paperwork, the more quickly your home will be ready to open and start welcoming children!
The person who conducts your home study will know you and your family very intimately before the process is over. This is another reason why picking the right agency is important. You need to be comfortable telling them everything.
During the home study, you will be interviewed multiple times in regard to your family history, relationship with your spouse if you have one, mental health history, parenting your own children, and many other things. These interviews help us know who you are, who your family is, and how you all work and function together. It also helps you as a family and us as an agency know which child would thrive best in your home.
Yes, there are 13,000 children in foster care in Georgia, and all 13,000 of them have different needs. We want to make sure that you are the right family for a child when we place them in your home. This means that we will narrow down the scope of what child to place in your home based on various demographics such as age, gender, past abuse, and present behavior. We also take into account the layout of your home and the available space that you have.
Home Safety Inspection
Another one of the steps in the home study process is to make sure that your home is physically safe for a child. Do you have a pool? Do you have a trampoline? There are certain safety measures that have to be put in place for each of those things. Sharp objects, medications, and cleaning supplies have to be stored and locked properly. Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are required in certain areas. There has to be a bed for each child and a place to store their belongings. Your car has to be safe and able to accommodate the number of children that you will have in your home. In our agency, we do an initial walkthrough to help you find out what home safety tweaks you may need to make. This will allow you to make those changes before the final safety inspection.
After all the paperwork is collected, the home safety inspection occurs and all the interviews take place, your home study narrative is written. This is a 20-30 page document outlining the agency’s findings and interactions with you, and it gives the final recommendation as to how many and what type of child your family can serve. You have the right to read your home study in its entirety. In fact, in Georgia, you are required to sign off on it stating that it is an accurate description of your family before it can be approved.
Once your home study is complete and recommendations are made and signed off on by you and your agency, it is submitted to the State of Georgia for final review. It could take days to weeks to receive final approval depending on the number of home studies that have been submitted at the time. You will receive notification from your agency when the State officially opens your home for placement.
Then, just like waiting for labor to begin, you start waiting for the call from your agency to find out that there is a possibility for a child or children to move in. There is no real way to estimate when this will happen. You may be thinking that with 13,000 children in care, the calls would come quickly and you would not be waiting long. However, we need to take a closer look at who makes up that 13,000 number.
As stated before, the home study process helps clarify what child or children are placed in your home. When entering into foster care in Georgia, it has become a very popular decision among foster parents to want to keep birth order if you have biological children and to want one or two children between the ages of 0-4. Because of that, it is not hard to find a home for these children, nor are they the typical placement call we receive. Because of this, if your range is 1-2 children ages 0-4, you may wait for quite a while before anyone comes to your home.
When you are thinking about caring for children in foster care, ask yourself if you can stretch further than you think. The vast majority of the 13,000 are older than 4 years of age. Usually, the baby who needs a home also has one or two older siblings and they all need to stay together.
There is a huge need for foster parents who can care for sibling groups of three or more, older children including teenagers, and children that may have more than basic educational, health, and behavioral needs. For families who are willing to serve those children, placement can happen much faster. Is God asking you to stretch your idea of fostering to incorporate what is needed in the community?
The Greatest Preparation of All
We have talked about what to expect with the entire process, from interest to approval, at this point.
A very high-level overview, of course.
I am hopeful that it gives you a good picture of what to expect when you are expecting to serve a child in care. Just like expecting your own biological child, expecting a foster child takes research, preparation, and time. I would be remiss if I did not mention the most important part of this process: prayer.
Bathe the entire process in prayer. Just as you would pray for your unborn child, pray for the foster child that will enter your home. Pray for you and your spouse — that God would prepare you both to receive a child with open arms and to work through the challenges that come with fostering. If you have your own children, pray for them as well, as this will change the norms that they are accustomed to.
God has called you to this and He knows the exact day and time that you will receive children into your home. He has chosen you to serve specific children and we rest in the timing of that, knowing that He is in control of not only the fostering journey of your family but the journey of the child that you will have the opportunity to care for and show the love of Christ. Be encouraged that God Himself goes before you in this and He will not leave you nor forsake you as you carry out His will (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Finally, thank you for your obedience to follow God’s call. Whether your obedience leads you to foster or to support someone who does, I appreciate you and your willingness to serve.