How Lesbian and Gay Couples Can
Get Licensed for Foster Care
Fear of the unknown is a powerful force, and becoming a foster parent can involve a lot of unknowns. Not knowing how favorably an agency will look upon a gay or lesbian foster parent, not knowing what is involved in the licensing process, and not knowing how long the process will take can be enough to petrify some people into inaction. However, with a little information the process of getting licensed for foster care will seem a lot less intimidating.
Finding an Agency
Gathering information about foster care agencies is the first step to becoming a foster parent. You should be able to make a list of agencies in your area by flipping through the phone book and/or searching the Internet for “foster care agency” and your city or state. Company websites are handy for gathering basic information about an agency – their nondiscrimination policies, an outline of the steps you’ll need to take to become licensed for foster care – but in order to make a decision on what agency you’ll use, you will probably need to attend an orientation and meet with someone from each agency you are considering.
Obviously, an agency’s nondiscrimination policies are an important factor in your decision. You need to know that your sexual orientation will not adversely affect your chances of becoming a foster parent. Agency recommendations from other gay or lesbian foster parents should be taken very seriously, as they are your best way of judging whether an agency will actually place a child with a nontraditional family.
State Laws Regarding Gay or Lesbian Foster Parents
You should also be familiar with laws that have a bearing on your ability to become a licensed foster parent. There are several states that have passed laws directly or indirectly prohibiting gays and lesbians from fostering a child. For example, a 1995 Nebraska law prohibited children from being placed with foster parents who are known to be gay. In 2005, Texas passed a similar law, forcing thousands of foster children in gay or lesbian families to be removed from their homes.
Other states use more indirect tactics: for instance, Utah does not allow foster children to be placed with unmarried foster parents – which, naturally, excludes gay and lesbian couples from becoming foster parents in that state. Similarly, in 2003 North Dakota passed a law that essentially gives agencies the right to discriminate against gays and lesbians, by allowing them to deny them on grounds of religion.
The Application Process
Once you have chosen an agency, you will need to start the application process. Applications should be available at the agency’s orientation or on their website. As the application includes everything from character references and your physician’s approval to financial and criminal background information, it might be helpful to create a “Foster Parent Licensing To-Do List” to help you keep track of what you still need to do.
You can think of the application process as similar to filling out a job application. The agency uses applications to screen prospective foster parents before moving on to the home study (the “interview”). Like a job application, the foster parent licensing application will ask for character references, a physician’s stamp of approval (stating that you can do the “job” of caring for a child), fingerprints, and permission to perform a background check.
The background check has two basic parts. On one hand, the agency will investigate your criminal record. However, they will also contact government offices – such as the Department of Child, Youth, and Families – to ensure that you have not been involved in child neglect, child abuse, or other domestic cases. The latter check is the more important one – someone with a criminal record may still be able to become a foster parent, if the crime was not recent and did not involve a child.
The Home Study and Inspection
The home study and inspection serves to ensure that children are placed in safe homes with capable foster parents. Therefore, you will be required to prove that you can provide care for a child. The caseworker who performs your home study will assess the emotional and financial stability of your home, looking at factors such as the relationships between household members (including you and your partner), your income and spending habits, and the physical accommodations you can provide for a child.
Although the home study makes many people fear that they won’t “measure up,” don’t worry overly much – the home study is to make sure you’re capable of being a foster parent, not that you’ll be the perfect foster parent. Your relationship does not have to rival a fairy tale couple’s, you don’t have to be rich, and you don’t have to have perfect credit. However, if you say you want to foster parent in order to save your relationship, you’re unemployed, and you owe more money than most people make in a lifetime, you will probably have a problem getting licensed for foster care.
Fire and safety inspections are another part of this step – but again, this is not reason to be overly concerned. The point of the inspection is to tell you what you need to do in order to license your home for foster care, not to refuse to license you. You may need to install a few smoke detectors or a remote boiler switch, but the good news is that you may be reimbursed for the expense of bringing your house “to code.”
Training is often a lengthy, but necessary, part of getting licensed for foster care. Many of the children in foster care are “special needs,” meaning that for one reason or another –birth defects, a history of being neglected or abused, or contact with drugs and alcohol – they will need special care. The training required for foster care licensing ensures that you will know how to care for a special needs child. Most states require between 24-30 hours of pre-service training, with a few states requiring dramatically more (Alabama, Arizona, North Carolina) or less (New York, South Carolina).
Training also prepares you for working with the agency and other individuals as you care for a child. As a foster parent, you will be part of an extensive team dedicated to providing for your child: you will need to interact regularly with social workers, psychologists, lawyers, and other professionals assigned to your foster child’s case. Training teaches you what to expect and how to establish comfortable working relationships with these people as you work toward a common goal: the best possible care for your foster child.
Additionally, most states require that foster parents continually update their training in order to maintain their foster care license. In general, most states require 10-20 hours of training annually.
For more information on foster care training requirements by state, please visit National Foster Parent Association Website
Time Frame and Other Considerations
A frequent concern of prospective foster parents is, “How long will it take to get licensed?” The answer depends mostly on how quickly you fulfill your end of the bargain. If you complete the application quickly and schedule all the necessary appointments as soon as possible, you may be able to get your foster care license in as little as two or three months. Otherwise, it could take anywhere from six months to a year – or even longer, should you take your time.
As mentioned earlier, an agency’s attitude toward gay and lesbian foster parents can have a significant bearing on the success of your application, or even how soon a foster child is placed with you. Other factors that come up during the application process or the home study could also delay licensing. However, it is important to remember that good foster care is at a premium: there are far more children in the foster care system than there are foster homes. Many agencies feel – and rightly so – that any loving, capable foster home is better than no home at all. Because of this intense need for foster families, the licensing process should be fairly painless, and not much cause for concern. You’ll be a foster parent almost before you know it!
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