The licensing process can work differently from state to state and between agencies; here's a look into our licensing experiences in 2011 and 2017.
Once we knew we wanted to pursue fostering, the next step was finding an agency. In our area, we have two private and one public agency that handle foster care. We switched agencies between license renewals to find a better fit. Here are some things you should consider when talking with agencies:
- How quickly do they respond to your questions and inquiries about fostering? Every caseworker and licensing representative I've ever met is overwhelmed with a very heavy caseload, so there's going to be a lag everywhere, but really pay attention to how well you feel heard when inquiring about foster care.
- Ask about what resources they have to support foster parents. Do they plan monthly support and educational meetings? Do they have dedicated staff for visit transport? Will you be expected to provide all transportation? It might seem small to do a little extra driving for visits, but you have to guard your downtime against burnout, and you'll be driving to many, many doctor's appointments probably, so a support person to drive for visits is a big plus.
- Do you feel camaraderie with the workers at the agency? These are going to be your teammates, you should feel comfortable talking to them. They're going to be in and out of your house and a part of your life.
After the initial inquiries and decision to pursue our license with an agency, we moved on to basic data collection, physical check ups with a doctor and home and background checks.
The licensing process is the first step in kind of laying your whole life out in front of others. Not just the cute pictures you'd share on social media, but the details of how you were parented, how you parent, what traumas you've been through in life, all of it. In my state, there's a pretty intense questionnaire around 30 pages long that's your whole life story, your relationship with your family members, everything, put in a file for the agency's review and records.
It gets personal when you open up your life to the state and an agency.
A licensing representative walks you through the initial process, interviews you, inspects your entire home for safety concerns, talks to you about foster care and what to expect.
I remember frantically scrubbing baseboards and cabinet doors before our first licensing inspection. Seriously, my house shone like the top of the Chrysler Building. Then, the licensing rep walked through with a glance around, and I thought she didn't even notice how clean my baseboards are!!!!
After we moved houses and switched agencies, we had our new licensing rep out. I still cleaned and tidied, but I felt so much more relaxed having learned my lesson; they're not going to glove test my baseboards.
Once all the initial questionnaires, interviews and paperwork are filed, you'll need to be fingerprinted, have a physical and have a background check. Obviously fingerprints and background checks are a safety requirement you may have already considered. The physical isn't as obvious, but it's also a precaution to make sure you're in good health to provide the kind of physically demanding care of young children.
Finally, there's the training. This varies from state to state, and the requirements and methods even changed in my state between our licenses.
The first time around, we attended an in-class session of 3 hours at a time for 9 weeks. It was a great place to ask questions and really get to know the material. During our second licensing, we were part of the pilot group taking the online classes. We completed two modules a week and had the whole process completed in about 5 weeks.
While it was mostly a repeat of information for us, and the convenience of online classes really worked with my husband's work schedule, I think if it had been our first time through, being in the classroom is really where it's at. I say this as someone who designs online learning for a living, so I'd really urge you to consider the classroom if you're discerning this process.
Sitting with other foster parents helps you gain future support people, and the classes are usually led by veteran foster parents who can help answer your questions.
Once we'd completed all of our interviews, safety checks and training, one day, a paper arrived in the mail. There is was, we were an active foster home. Thus began the wait for a call.