Foster care is a beautiful challenge. When people rise to meet these children where they are at and are willing to fight for them and love them, incredible life-changing things happen. It is the hardest job you’ll ever love. There are currently between 13,000 and 15,000 children in foster care in Pennsylvania. Over one thousand will age out of the system, never finding a family. One out of every four will experience homelessness and are more likely to go to jail. Mental health issues are rampant. Only 4 percent of these children will graduate from college. There is a way to intervene and make a difference. You can be the turning point in someone’s life if you are brave enough to try.
Psychologically, foster care requires mental and emotional strength. You must be able to provide a loving and nurturing environment as well as stability and consistency for the child. They have led a life of chaos; they need structure with no surprises. You have to separate the child’s behavior from who that child genuinely is. The goal of foster care is reunification with the biological family, preferably the parents. These people are often struggling with their own demons and will need openness and encouragement from the foster family as well. Both the children and the parents already feel like failures, they need to be lifted up and supported. Children should not hear any negativity about their parents as they will personalize it. Again, separate the parent’s poor behavior and choices from who they are as human beings. A foster parent loves these children as if they had always been with them, yet understands that letting go is often a part of the process. Do not expect to be able to do this on your own, you will need a village. A strong supportive community is essential.
The requirements for foster care in Pennsylvania begin simply. You must be 21 years of age, own or rent appropriate housing, have a medical examination clearing you physically, and a record showing no criminal history or documentation of child abuse. The next steps will be training. Depending on the program you select, there are different training options. There are state-run programs as well as private agencies. Contact Pennsylvania State Resource Family Association at 1-800-951-5151 for a list of agencies. Another great resource is adoptpakids.org. The program you select will guide you through training as well as the legal requirements and home studies. Additionally, six hours of approved training is required annually to maintain certification.
Home studies will be required. One bathroom with a flush toilet, a washbasin, and either a bath or shower is necessary with running hot and cold water. Sleeping areas need to be rooms with a window. No halls, unfinished basements or attics, garages, closets, sheds, etc. are permitted. If the foster children are of the opposite sex, they may not share a room upon reaching 5 years of age. Infants will require their own crib. Clean mattresses, linens, blankets and pillows are expected. Safety requirements will be mandated. Medications and chemicals will need to be stored in inaccessible areas and must be labeled. Smoke detectors are required on each level and there must be a fire extinguisher which is tested annually. Protective safety caps are necessary in electrical outlets for children under 5 and no exposed wires are allowed. There must be an operating heating system and an operable phone. Emergency numbers must be placed next to the phone.
In addition to the child and the parents, you are going to need to get along with the social workers, case workers, the guardian ad litem (lawyer for the child), and a CASA volunteer. They are all going to come with different opinions, but the child’s best interest should always be in the forefront. Also, there will be the school teachers, counselors, therapists, and doctors which you will come into contact with. Being flexible and accommodating while still advocating for your child can be overwhelming and exhausting. Kindness, understanding, and patience will be imperative.
If you are reading this article, if you are thinking of foster care, please take the next step. You are brave, you are strong, and you have the ability to change the world one child at a time.
For additional information on how to care for foster children, please click here.