As some of you may know, my husband (Nate) and I have been on a journey to become foster parents in Hennepin County (a 7 months and counting process for us)! We have officially finished our last step and now wait for our worker to write the long home study report, send it to the state and to get our license in the mail. I quote this stat a lot, but it’s because it was SHOCKING to me:
On any given night, there are 130+ kids waiting in emergency shelters for a foster home in Hennepin County alone.
In general, there’s a massive shortage of foster parents across the United States. Since May is National Foster Care Awareness Month and it’s Mother’s Day I thought I’d write an FAQ post for anyone interested in learning more about foster care through the lens of our experience thus far as prospective foster parents.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: So this means you’re adopting kids right?
A: Not necessarily. We have opted to be what is called a “concurrent” home. This means we are open to fostering but we are also open to the possibility of adoption.
Q: What is the difference between fostering and adoption?
A: The goal of foster care is reunification for the family first. This means we WANT the child to get to go home to Mom or Dad if they’re working their plan to get better. The 2nd goal is to reunite them with a family member (Aunt, Grandma, Cousin, etc.). The 3rd goal is for them to be placed in a family of the same race to help maintain a strong identity. The last goal is to place in a trans-racial home. This happens a fair amount as the first three options aren’t always possible. Currently 65 – 85% of foster care cases end in reunification in Hennepin County. The others become available for adoption and the child’s current foster care home is always the first choice for the county.
Q: Where will the foster kids be coming from?
A: Hennepin County with a very small chance they could be from another county that partners with Hennepin (Chisago County as an example). Some folks have gotten confused by this—foster care is not the same as international adoption or Domestic US adoption. The county is in a state of emergency because there are not enough licensed foster care homes. If you live out of state in a metro area it’s highly likely your county needs foster parents too! Here’s an article from the Huffington Post about the foster care crisis across the United States. This fact sheet report points to the most common reasons why a child enters foster care in Minnesota. In 2013, the top three were neglect (70.8% of cases), physical abuse (21.5% of cases), and sexual abuse (18.1% of cases).
Q: Awkward…but I have to ask. Have you tried to have children biologically? And you can’t? So that’s why you’re doing foster care?
A: So many people (even strangers) have asked this question. We don’t have an interest in having biological children at this time. I guess we’re weird to a lot of people in that we’ve elected to become parents via foster care first. It’s always been in my heart to put as many kids through school financially as I have biologically. Now it may be to put as many kids or more through straight up life. Thankfully this is what is in my husband’s heart too. Long term, we think we might want a blended family of adopted and biological children, but we’re really open. Maybe we get a few foster care placements under our belt and get a sibling group that’s available for adoption. We’d probably just adopt them all and be done at that point. Or maybe we get 5 placements in and have had no child become available for adoption. We’ll probably start trying for some biological kids at that point. We’re highly flexible in the ways we’re open to becoming permanent parents.
Q: Can single people or same sex couples become foster/adoptive parents.
A: YES! YES! YES!!!! You can learn more about the basic requirements and some statistics specific to Hennepin County here.
Q: Can you specify age, gender and number of children you are able to care for?
A: Yes. And you are also asked describe what type of child you are able to care for. But you may still get calls asking you to care for kids that are outside of your preferences. It is always your choice to say yes or no. Nate and I have specified starting with just one 4 – 12 year old girl. But our worker already asked us if we’d take a sibling group of 7 & 9 year old girls. We would love nothing more than to raise a bunch of strong, kick ass, confident young women.
Q: What’s the application process like?
A: First, I want to be clear–in the state of Minnesota every county is different. In fact, I’m learning that across the US most of foster care is operated at a county level. So everything I say here is specific to Hennepin County. Essentially, there’s a few steps in Hennepin County (similar to other counties generally):
1. Information Session. The first thing you have to do is attend an information session for 2 hours. They will not give you an application until you attend the session.
2. Application. Then you fill out a lengthy application complete with your financials to prove you can sustain a child without a stipend, describe your home environment (need to make sure you have enough bedroom space), your background information, list references, etc.
3. Attend Trainings. I’ll talk more about this later if you’re curious.
4. Background Check. You go to a UPS store to get fingerprinted and the state has a robust background check performed on you while you are going through trainings.
5. References Checked. Each reference will receive a letter in the mail where they have to answer various questions about you, your ability to parent, etc.
6. Home Study. You meet with your licensing worker twice for about 3 – 4 hours. The first time they give you a 15 page packet of questions to answer and send in. The second study you go through the questions with her. The questions range from “Describe your mother’s personality” to “How did you learn about sex?” to “How will you talk to a child about their past?” …the list goes on. You also go through a home safety check (think fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, water temperature below 120 degrees, etc.). Then your worker writes up the report for the state and you wait for your license to come.
Q: What trainings did you take?
A: We had to take 11 trainings that were about 3 hours each. I think we had to take more because we are not already parents but I could be wrong. The trainings you take are dependent on the age of child you specify. Here were the titles of the trainings we took:
Children’s Mental Health
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
Cultural Issues in Placement
Impact of Abuse & Neglect on Child Development
Attachment, Separation and Placement
Car Seat Safety
Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome (SUIDS)
Foster Care the Hennepin Way: Nuts & Bolts
Q: How does the placement process work?
A: As soon as we get our license in the mail, we can start getting calls from our licensing worker or child protection workers in the county about different kids in need of a home. They’ll tell us whatever they can about the child and we’ll have a chance to ask questions. It’s pretty typical stuff they know—age, gender, race, why they’re in care, how many parental, sibling and/or therapy visits per week, any known behavioral or mental health challenges the child has, etc. Then there is a weekend-length pre-placement visit. Assuming everything goes okay you just keep the child with you after that visit.
Q: How long could a placement last?
A: The county staff really avoids answering this question and I now understand why after meeting more foster parents. Placements range from 2 days to 2 years to forever because you end up adopting the child in your care. Flexibility is key in all of this. We just can’t predict another individual’s behavior, right? You just don’t know if Mom or Dad is going to work their plan, how fast they’ll work the plan and/or if a different family member will come forward wanting to care for the child that is currently with you (preference is given to family caring for the child).
Q: Wait. So they can go back to the parents? But aren’t they in foster care because their parents didn’t properly care for them?
A: Yes, it is the goal of foster care to reunite children with their parents. And yes, they could be in care because their parents were not able to care for them. This does not always mean that they are permanently unable to care for them. Let’s say there is a drug use problem. If Mom/Dad is able to follow their case plan of say getting and staying clean & sober, find housing, show job/income stability, etc. then they’re now able to care for their children again. This is great! Nate and I firmly support the first goal in being reunification provided the parents are working the plan.
Q: Do you get paid? How much?
A: Yes and I don’t really remember how much. I think it ranges from $500 – 700 a month in Hennepin County depending on the age of the child and any special needs they may have. If a child has extreme needs there is an assessment that can be done to go above and beyond the max threshold. All that I know is that this is not why we’re doing it! And the county is pretty clear that our expenses could very well go above and beyond the monthly payment so no one should do this thinking they can make a profit from it. If there is any excess it should still be used to care for the child in some way (more clothes, books, activities, etc.). We’ve already invested a fair amount of money into car seats, linens, bedding, etc. And we’re SUPER thankful for friends who have given us mattresses and bed frames.
Q: Do you have to cover medical expenses?
A: No. The child has insurance through the state.
Q: Will the child stay in their same school?
A: If it is in the child’s best interest then they will. Minneapolis has an amazing bus system that will bus across town to different schools, but it may take a few weeks to get this in place. Also, if we get a child from a more rural corner of the county it’s likely we’ll be doing the driving to and from school.
Q: What happens when the child is with you?
A: It depends if the bio parent is in the picture or not. If they are, the bio parent is on a case plan of things they need to do to be reunited with their child. We take the child to supervised visits with the bio parents a few times per week. More if there are siblings who have been separated that also need weekly visits. Another possibility is that the bio parent is AWOL. In this case, searches are being performed for them and/or any other relative who many want to care for the child.
Q: What’s the scariest part so far?
A: To be clear, we haven’t had our first placement yet. So for now it’s just all the rules. They can be a little overwhelming. Some examples–
We cannot travel across state lines without approval. This is a little concerning for us in particular because almost my entire family lives 45 minutes away in Wisconsin and we are frequently traveling there. But our worker has assured us this shouldn’t be a big issue. It may be as simple as sending a quick email to the child’s social worker every time we make a trip…or it may not. We aren’t really sure yet.
We cannot take the child to church, get their hair cut, etc. without bio parent and/or court approval. At first these things can be shocking. But think about it. If your kid ended up in care wouldn’t you want a vote too? And it’s not always the case that the parent has done something terrible to put them into care. We are currently in the camp of giving bio parents the benefit of the doubt and hope for change. This could change, but this is how we feel today without having a specific case in mind.
We are trained to fill out incident forms for every minor bruise, cut, etc. Why? The trainers have said more than once that “It’s not IF a complaint will be filed but WHEN.” Unfortunately, there’s a lot of negative attitudes toward foster parents. Complaints can be from the biological parents (maybe they see a bruise on the kid’s knee during a visit), from school professionals, etc. So we have to document every bruise, scrape, etc. to protect ourselves in the event of a complaint.
Q: What’s the best part so far?
A: Two things–
1. Building a new, additional community circle. We are feeling SUPER supported by the county through trainings, events, etc. and are really enjoying meeting other new foster parents or veteran foster parents.
2. Getting the child’s room ready in our home. Trying to make it as cozy and comfortable as possible for them. Imagine going into a stranger’s home and being told you’re supposed to live here indefinitely. YIKES! We want to make it as easy on them as possible.
Q: What are you most nervous about?
A: Probably those first few days/weeks of adjustment. And stupid stuff like thinking my husband and I will never go on a date again.
Q: But can’t you just get a babysitter?
A: Yes. But there’s a lot of rules here like (remember the scariest part being all the rules)–
1. The sitter can drive them for an excursion to a public place (say ice cream or the zoo), but the sitter needs to take a car seat safety class and be background checked.
2. If a sitter is watching a child after bedtime hours (like any normal date night) then they need car seat safety and SUIDS training and finger print background checks run. And all overnights need to be at our house or another licensed foster home since they are the only homes that have passed the safety check.
Needless to say with all the rules, we would be SOOO appreciative of anyone who is willing to watch foster children at our house ocassionally. And bonus friendship points if you’re willing to do these trainings and get background checked for the after bedtime hours! Huge thanks to those of you who already have!
So what do YOU think about all of this? Maybe you think foster care sounds…
- Amazing! I want to do it. Where do I start? Google your county name foster care (ex: Hennepin County foster care) and see what the next steps are! I’d also be happy to talk with anyone and everyone interested.
- Like too many rules for me to follow. Can I just adopt kids out of foster care? You sure can! There is such a thing as the MN waiting kids list (only about 1/3 of all kids available for adoption are actually listed) and also “foster to adopt” in Hennepin County. This still means you become a licensed foster parent because the adoption process takes so long. However, it also means you will not have a child placed with you unless they are adoptable and you have already been deemed an appropriate prospective adoptive parent. This will also likely mean it takes longer for you to have a child placed in your home. However, it’s an option if you’re looking for a more “sure thing” vs. fostering!
- Scary! No way I can do it, but I want to help those who are and/or the kids in foster care. What are some ways I can help? Listed in order of effort–
- Go through everything we did to become a licensed “respite care” provider. This means you still become a licensed foster parent, but you only care for kids when full time foster parents need a break (say for a long weekend up to a 2 week vacation). It’s extremely hard to find respite care in Hennepin County right now. So people who are willing to care for a child for 2 days – 2 weeks are extremely needed particularly if foster parents can’t get court approval to take the child with on a vacation.
- Get car seat + SUIDS training (about 3.5 hours total on a weekend or weeknight) and be willing to get finger print background checked to be able to babysit for foster parents you know overnight or just during “overnight hours” say for a date night that goes until 11pm.
- Offer to babysit during daytime hours at a foster parent’s house for a foster parent you know! Nothing really required to do this as long as they know & trust you!
- Donate supplies (new or gently used clothes, cribs, beds, books, games, bedding, formula, diapers, car seats…basically anything and everything a kid might need ages 0 – 18). How? If you know a foster parent (and you do because you are reading this) tell them or send pictures of what you have that you are willing to donate regardless of age/gender they are currently fostering! They then post it on private foster care Facebook groups and share or swap with each other. One group in Minnesota that is open to the public for you to post what you have directly is Fostering Connections Clothing and Supply Swap that is more focused on supporting the emergency shelter homes (i.e.: they care for LOTS of kids all at once).
- Donate money for the cost of a duffel bag. Most kids in foster care still have their stuff moved from home to home in garbage bags making them feel like they are also garbage. This is THE WORST! There are a couple of nonprofits that do duffel bags for foster care children. Together We Rise is on example. This organization has many other amazing projects/events you or your corporation might be able to engage in.
- Donate money to C2i (Connections To Independence). This is a Minnesota organization that “provides unique programming and advocacy for foster care youth, ages 15 – 24, to promote a successful and healthy transition to living independently as they reach adulthood.” Unfortunately, many older children never get adopted and end up transitioning out of the foster care system without a strong support system in place. This organization helps them transition smoothly by focusing on core competencies including financial literacy, housing, employment, education and personal wellness. I had the opportunity to listen to the Executive Director moderate a panel of youth <age 24 who had aged out of foster care and was blown away! Definitely an organization I will be supporting!
Hope this inspired you in some way! Please DO reach out to me directly if you have any other questions I didn’t answer above. Happy to answer them in the comments below or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Happy Mother’s Day from this Non-Conventional “Expectant” Momma to you!
2 thoughts on “FAQ: Foster Care through the Lens of a Prospective Foster Parent”
First – thank you for writing this my love! You always lay things out in such an easy to follow fashion. I couldn’t agree with everything youve written more.
Second – you forgot one of the strangest rules of foster care (in my opinion anyway); NO SOCIAL MEDIA. For those reading this comment, that doesn’t mean that we’re going to delete our FB or Twitter accounts. It means that we are not allowed, under ANY circumstances, to post pictures, names, or even reveal the specifics of a foster child’s situation on social media. In fact, we’re generally discouraged from talking about their situation with anyone who is not working for the county at all. Again, so far, all of these rules is the craziest and hardest part for us, though I’m sure becoming parents for the first time will trump everything else. 🙂
Shannon, thank you for sharing your journey and all the details. I’m not sure yet what I’m ready to do to help. But your list of ways anyone can contribute to a child’s welfare is incredibly helpful. You guys are awesome. You ARE the hands doing the good.