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When considering whether to start the process of becoming a licensed foster parent, it can be important to know the timelines and processes for each step. This post discusses a general timeline and outlines the process (in Colorado).

Mother and child holding hands

I chose to go through an agency (rather than county). Check out this post to explore the different types of foster care.

Here is the process I followed to become a licensed foster parent, broken into phases.

The Research Phase

Around the time I was visiting my parents in Minnesota for Thanksgiving (2020), the numbers of kids in migrant detention centers along the US-Mexico border was creeping up. My dad made an off-handed comment about how he was surprised I hadn’t signed up to foster children from the border.

This comment sent me on a spiral of looking for information. At 2:03 am on November 29th, I submitted my “interest in foster care survey” to the agency servicing immigrant and refugee youth.

This survey, for my agency, was the official first step in becoming a foster parent. Depending on the agency/ county you are going through they may have a different information gathering process.

My research phase took about 5 hours. I recommend you spend longer than I did in this “research phase”. Some important topics to research may be:

  • Age groups served by the agency or whether the county has any restrictions on new foster families (my county wasn’t accepting new foster families that weren’t willing to at least consider kids above the age of 6)
  • Specific populations you may be interested in (medically fragile, URMs, foster-to-adopt…etc.)
  • Supports that are offered through the county or specific agency

Check back soon for a post that may be useful to you in understanding the differences between county and agency foster care programs.

The Orientation & Information Gathering Phase

After my initial interest survey was complete, I spoke with the agency representative and was signed up for two orientations/ information sessions that week.

You might only attend one orientation meeting, but I was originally interested in fostering immigrant children (referred to as Unaccompanied Refugee Minors, or URMs). The second orientation I attended focused solely on URMs.

The Foster Parenting Training Phase

After the orientation, I was assigned to a nine week training course. This training course covered topics like these:

  • Separation from family of origin
  • Grief/ Loss
  • Trauma and trauma-informed parenting
  • Special/ additional needs and considerations
  • Permanency planning and reunification

Plus a lot more! As a social worker, I felt like this could be another social work class, but it was definitely helpful. The trainings offered readings and additional resources that the trainees can return to whenever, which is really valuable!

The Paperwork Phase

The dreaded P word! Foster care comes with A LOT of paperwork. You will be asked to complete information about your finances, your family beliefs, past experiences… etc. I’m not sure how in-depth the county goes, but my agency digs deep.

Some of the questions surprised me- like questions about my past romantic life- but I get why they ask these questions.

For a lot of foster care providers, caring for a child can bring up unresolved issues from their past and can lead to a negative experience or even safety concerns for the child in care.

The biggest tip I can give for wading through the paperwork is: break it up! You can probably get through all the paperwork in a few nights if you’re really dedicated, but I took lots of breaks and would just send paperwork as I completed it.

Be prepared to continue to complete paperwork throughout fostering… it seems to never end!

The Home Study Phase

I had seen a lot of YouTube videos and even TikToks about the home study. Many people are very nervous for this particular part of the process.

For me, I knew that it would likely be a fellow social worker who would show up at my door. I’ve also done home visits in the past, so I felt less nervous having been on both sides. Really, what your home study person is going to be looking for is whether your home is relatively clean and if there are any safety concerns for caring for a child.

I had a few things I needed to “correct” before I would receive my license and my home study worker and I collaborated on how long I would need to make the corrections. As an example, one of my issues was that I didn’t have a fire extinguisher. I had already ordered a fire extinguisher but it hadn’t been delivered yet.

The home study experience varies greatly depending on your home study worker, whether you are married or have kids, and the specific agency or program requirements you may have. For me, the whole home study process took about 7 hours total.

A couple with a biological child in my cohort shared that their home study lasted around 20 hours and another couple without a biological child took about 12 hours. Children are interviewed separately from the parents, and each parent is interviewed separately as well.

How Long Does Becoming a Licensed Foster Parent Take?

As I mentioned earlier, the actual timelines of each step of the process can be vastly different for each foster family. Here is an approximation of my specific timeline.

Research5 hours
Orientation2 orientations for 1 hour each
Training9 training sessions for 3 hours each
PaperworkApproximately 4 hours total, plus additional time locating certificates/proof of insurance…etc.
Home StudyApproximately 7 hours over 4 visits, plus additional time corresponding over e-mail

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Licensed Foster Parent?

While I would never go into foster care expecting everything to be free, I was actually sort of shocked about some of the costs I incurred in the process of becoming a foster parent.

I also heard that some businesses or agencies may do reimbursements for fees associated with the process of becoming a foster parent. That is not my case, however, I still recommend keeping a receipt of everything you spend!

Here’s a breakdown of every cost I kept receipts for:

  • Background check/ fingerprinting
  • CPR training (in my case this was offered through my school district, but I still kept the confirmation that I signed up for the course)
  • Any receipts for any ongoing learning I have completed- including receipts for books or podcasts that cost
  • Any extra costs associated with travel to/from trainings

Not only is it good to know how much you’re spending, it’s also good to keep receipts so they can be submitted for the “proof” you have completed any necessary paperwork and/or ongoing learning.

Tesla’s Tidbit

While every agency and county are going to have slightly different processes for becoming a licensed foster parent, it took me about 13 months from initial interest to being licensed. It would be important to do as much research as you can before starting the process, and knowing what to expect can help cut down the timeframe. As with anything in foster care- expect the unexpected!

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