Every year, thousands of children have to leave their homes and enter out-of-home care in Washington State. Many are neglected, some are abused, and others leave for the simple reason that their biological parents can’t care for them.
That’s where foster parents can come to the rescue. They aid both the children and their biological parents when they need them most. With help from people like you, families have a chance to reunite and thrive.
Here’s what you’ll find on this page:
were in out-of-home care as of January 2019
in out-of-home care are in a group home
exiting out-of-home care were reunited with their parents or primary caretakers
entering out-of-home care in 2016 were under age five
is the median length of stay for children entering out-of-home care
The need for foster parents in Washington State is clear. Yet, numbers alone don’t provide the full picture of what it’s like to become a foster parent and change lives. For that, you need to hear the real stories of experienced foster parents.
What It’s Like To Be A Foster Parent
“Helping one kid at a time is the most important message. If you can offer a warm house for someone, it’s better than giving them a million dollars.” Liliana, Washington State foster parent
Liliana was just 24 when she became a foster parent. She decided to seek placement of teenage girls who needed loving homes with Spanish-speaking families. In Washington State, there is an incredible need for foster families from all different backgrounds and cultures.
After more than a decade, the first girls Liliana fostered are now going on to start their own families. “The oldest now is 26, and she’s doing great. She’s got two kids of her own and it’s just amazing to see the incredible woman she has become,” says Liliana.
There were challenges for Liliana, sure, but she wouldn’t do it any differently today.
Not Always Easy, But Always Worth It
Foster parenting is hard. It’s time-consuming, emotionally draining, and logistically challenging. But experienced foster parents will tell you that those efforts pale in comparison to the feeling of helping a child, and a family, from slipping through the cracks.
There are plenty of reasons to become a foster parent, including:
- Helping birth parents heal and learn how to provide a safe and loving home for their children
- Helping a son get a second chance to live and thrive with a healthy father
- Helping a mother and her kids escape abusive relationships and find a new family
These aren’t just ideas. These are real stories of families that have been reunited, extended, and created anew thanks to the sacrifice and support of foster parents. So yes, it’s hard. But it’s always worth it.
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Should You Become A Foster Parent?
Anyone can be a foster parent. It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced parent or a first-timer. You can be single or married, gay or straight, black or white, old or young. In fact, Washington has an incredible need for more diversity within its foster care community.
Deciding to become a foster parent should always start with research and self-reflection. Why are you doing this? What are your goals? And are you ready for the logistical and emotional commitment that foster parenting entails?
Questions To Think Through
What is the setup of your house?
Agencies require that children one and older have their own bedroom separate from adults. If you live in a studio or one-bedroom home, you may be restricted to fostering an infant.
Are you willing to commit to a six- to nine-month licensing process?
Foster parents are required to attend 24 hours of state training, pass certification for First Aid and CPR, get a medical form from their doctor, and meet with social workers to assess their families.
What is your experience with kids, especially those with special needs?
Anyone can be a foster parent, but those without experience should consider a Child Placement Agency (CPA) because they provide more support and more options, including helping children of all ages and needs get matched with the right foster parents. In general, families with experience have more options for placement, including older youth and those with special needs.
Do you believe that families can rectify safety concerns?
Reunification is the goal in the vast majority of cases. If you hold onto negative impressions of the biological parents, you’ll be working against a system designed to bring them back together.
Are you OK sharing information about your past with foster care agencies?
As part of the licensing process, social workers will conduct a home study and personal evaluation that includes questions about your childhood; relationships with siblings, partners, and parents; and past traumas and other issues related to adversity.
Preparing For The Commitment
On top of caring for a child, foster parents commit to regular communication with agencies, maintaining records, and managing home visits from agency staff.
Here are the typical commitments a foster parent should expect to make:
- Communication — Talk regularly with caseworkers, birth parents, attorneys, and others involved in the child’s life.
- Confidentiality — The desire to share your foster child’s accomplishments is understandable, but confidentiality prohibits sharing information about the child.
- Maintaining and Keeping Records — You must keep clear records of a child’s health and behavior.
- Payments and Reimbursement — Foster parents get compensated for costs related to taking care of a child. Payments for everyday needs, when approved, are often given as reimbursements, not up-front allowances.
- Uniform Rates for Foster Care Assistance — Foster parents are supported financially with set stipends, based on age and needs, that provide for a child.
- Ongoing Training — Even after licensing, you will get additional support through training.
- Monthly Home Visits — Expect visits to your home by the state licensing agency or your private Child Placement Agency (CPA). Visits depend on the agency you work with to get licensed and exist to ensure your home is still adequate to care for your child.
It takes hard work and patience to be successful. But, an incredible network of foster parent resources and community support will help you along the way. And, there’s no greater reward than the love you will share with your foster child.
What It Takes To Be A Successful Foster Parent
The logistical requirements of becoming a foster parent are only part of your journey. Being a successful foster parent takes more than attending a training class or making room in your schedule for meetings with caseworkers.
Children thrive when foster parents love as if they were their own children.
Patience is critical, not only for your foster child but for caseworkers and birth parents who are battling their own challenges.
Prepare for Questions
Caseworkers will ask about your personal life and friends and family will want to know about your decision to foster. Treat the question as an opportunity to learn, share, and educate.
Share and Explore Traditions
>Encourage your child’s traditions to live on. A child who loses their home can lose a lot more than just their family. They can lose cultural connections, a sense of identity, and ties to extended family and friends, all because of lost traditions.
Have Empathy for Birth Parents
Don’t automatically believe that birth parents are bad people. Understand that they’re struggling with the colossal weight of being separated from their child and fixing whatever issue led to that separation. Express empathy for that journey, especially when interacting with your foster child.
Find Support and Accept the Likelihood of Letting Go
Foster parenting isn’t easy, and few things are harder than losing a child you’ve loved to reunification, but that’s why there are other families and non-profits ready to support you at all times.
Foster Care Requirements
Anyone can be a foster parent. In many ways, the biggest requirement is the emotional investment it takes to do things like support reunification, have empathy for birth parents, or be patient with children that are understandably scared, angry, or confused.
But, there are also logistical requirements that every new foster parent should understand and anticipate, including:
Training — In addition to the Core Caregiver Training (CCT) that you’re required to complete as part of the licensing process, you should seek out training that’s specifically suited to the unique needs of your child.
Background Check — All new foster parents are required to submit a background check as part of the licensing process.
With clear expectations, foster parents can go into the licensing process with a clear idea of what comes next and what information they’ll need to gather.
Being A Good Foster Parent
One of the greatest challenges of being a good foster parent is a lack of knowledge. It’s not always easy to know how to approach your child when you don’t know much about their past, what triggers them, and what they need to feel loved and accepted.
Despite obstacles of fear and anxiety on both sides of the relationship, foster parents have to lead the charge when it comes to establishing trust and stability. Transparency, stability, and patience are just a few of the key tools needed to create a healthy environment for everyone to thrive in.
Becoming Licensed In Washington State
In most cases, the foster care licensing process in Washington State takes 6–9 months. Families interested in foster care should plan on committing time to attend classes, complete required training, coordinate several assessment interviews, and have a home study completed.
But before you can begin the licensing process, you need to decide whether you’d like to partner with a state or private agency.
State vs. Private Agency
New foster parents will quickly find that there are lots of private agencies to choose from, or they can opt to work directly with the state.
Both options have pros and cons, depending on your interests as a foster parent. The main differences come down to support and flexibility.
State agency licensing staff are less involved than those at private agencies, which offers foster parents greater freedom to make decisions.
State-sponsored foster parents usually have less say in choosing which child is placed in their home.
Private agencies typically offer extra support when it comes to:
- Arranging placements
- Coordinating respite requests
- Setting up visits with birth parents
- After-hours phone support
- Regular in-home checks to ensure things are going smoothly
While the licensing process varies slightly between all agencies, there are five common steps you should anticipate:
- Attend an informational meeting that reviews your agency’s licensing steps.
- Complete an application and background check to determine eligibility.
- Attend Caregiver Core Training (CCT) required by Washington State.
- Coordinate an assessment of your ability to care for a child and have your home certified.
- Family matching and placement of a child who needs you in your home.
For a deeper dive into the licensing process, download our free resource: The Essential Guide To Becoming A Foster Parent In Washington State.
What To Expect As A Foster Parent After Placement?
Every foster parent goes through a learning period after placement. You’re learning more and more about your child’s behavior, your agency’s requirements, and your support systems.
Foster parents should anticipate having a lot of questions and asking for help to navigate your new role. Don’t forget, as you head into the first week, lean on others for support when you need it.
The First Week
In your first week as a foster parent, you’ll experience a flood of emotions and challenges. As you and your foster child learn more about each other, plan for the unexpected. It’s hard to know what may trigger a child who has been abused or neglected.
Something as simple as offering new school clothes might be overwhelming for a child that’s never experienced it. One of the best ways to avoid potential issues is to communicate early with birth parents, something you can do within the first week at a Family Team Decision Meeting.
Family Team Decision Meeting (FTDM) — Within 72 Hours
- Attended by birth parents, caseworkers, and sometimes extended family
- Used to work out education, housing, health insurance, and other care component details including what children like to eat, bedtime routines, or other daily habits that foster parents should know to provide better care
One of the first meetings after placement is one that foster parents are not required to attend. But, the gathering is an invaluable opportunity to form early connections with birth parents.
Medical Appointment — Within 5 Days
- Attended by foster parents to learn more about a child’s medical issues and report those issues to caseworkers who can coordinate any necessary medications
Beyond the first week, the life of a foster parent is not unlike a typical parent. You’ll help to establish a routine, take them to school, fix meals, and play with them, all the while working to build trust. But there is one key difference between a foster parent and a typical parent. Foster parents commit to supporting reunification at all times.
Reunification: Building A Brighter Future
In Washington State, reunification is the goal of foster care. Reunification happens when a child returns to live with the family they were removed from.
For new foster parents, reunification may be hard to understand. It’s not easy to imagine letting a child return to a home that was, at one time, unsafe for them.
But reunification builds on the belief that people can change, lives can improve, and families deserve second chances to thrive. It also reflects studies that show significant benefits for children and their parents.
For example, shortly after Kayla brought her baby boy home, she got a knock at the door. It was child protective services, inquiring about allegations that her home was unfit for her infant and her daughter. Kayla knew she struggled with mental health and substance abuse problems, but she wasn’t ready to lose her children. No one is.
But when her children were taken from her, it was a wake-up call. She got a new job and cut off the bad influences in her life. She secured an apartment, attended training sessions and substance abuse programs, and she committed to getting her children back as fast as possible. Six months after that fateful knock, she was reunited.
Reunification isn’t just about getting kids back home, it’s about providing families the chance to reset.
The benefits of reunification include:
- Improved permanency outcomes for children and parents.
- Improved development outcomes for children
- Maintenance of a child’s cultural ties and relationships with extended family
It’s critical for foster parents to understand these benefits because supporting reunification is one of the biggest emotional and logistical challenges of foster parenting.
How It Works: A Roadmap To Reunification
Reunification gives birth parents a reason to confront their personal issues, get help, and become the parents their children deserve to have. For some, that process may only take weeks. For others, it can take months or years.
Through it all, foster parents ensure that their child is safe in a loving home. They also support the reunification process, which starts even before a child is placed with them.
Foster parents become licensed and learn about the benefits of reunification by talking to their agency and connecting with other experienced foster families.
As soon as a child is placed, foster parents work to establish a connection with a child’s family, when safe.
Foster parents maintain frequent, positive contact with a child’s family.
During reunification, foster parents lean on non-profits and other foster families for support, though state-licensed families typically have less support.
Beyond reunification, established connections ideally continue. Many foster families go on to babysit, celebrate holidays, and spend other special occasions with their foster child’s family.
The Power of Empathy
Empathy is a critical component of reunification. Successful foster parents exhibit empathy for:
- Birth parents who are struggling to create an environment that’s suitable for their children.
- Children who are confused and scared about being separated from their families.
- Social workers doing their best amidst overwhelming caseloads.
Families who have heard the phrase “foster-to-adopt” may see foster care as an alternative path to adoption.
But there’s a problem with that thinking: The goal of foster care is reunification, not adoption. While it’s true that some children in out-of-home care are adopted by their foster parents, it’s not common.
Because of the benefits of reunification, agencies, caseworkers, and birth parents commit to that end result. Foster parents who want to adopt are bound to struggle in a system that’s designed to reconnect families rather than separate them permanently.
While it’s true that some children in out-of-home care are adopted by their foster parents, it’s not common. In Washington State, only 16% of children in out-of-home care are adopted.
When adoptions do happen, they’re typically for older youth (ages 11-17) who have suffered trauma and need adoptive parents who have experience in therapeutic parenting.
FAQ: Most Common Questions About Foster Parenting
Wondering about adoption is one of the most common questions families have about foster parenting. Asking about adoption is great because it presents an opportunity to educate families about core foster care principles, like reunification.
Besides adoption, here are answers to other frequently asked questions for new foster parents.
Q: What’s the best way to get started?
A: Do your research. Gathering as much information as possible is the best way for new foster parents to get started. Learn about the pros and cons of state vs. private agencies, reach out to other foster families to talk about their experiences, and contact non-profits to find out what support services they offer.
Q: How long does it take to get licensed?
A: In Washington State, the licensing process usually takes about 6-9 months.
Q: How long do children normally stay with a foster family?
A: It varies a lot. Some children may only need a place to stay for a few days. Others may need a home for a few years.
Q: Do I have to quit my job to be a foster parent?
A: No. Foster children can go to daycare and after-school programs so that their foster parents can maintain their normal jobs. The Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) also provides a stipend to help families pay for daycare services.
Q: Do I have input into what foster children are placed with me?
A: Yes. You’ll work with your agency to determine which children would fit your home and lifestyle. Things like age range, gender, and your own experience as a parent all go into figuring out an ideal placement for you, your family, and your foster child.
Q: Are most foster kids adopted eventually?
A: No. The goal of foster care in Washington State is reunification. Agencies, foster parents, and birth parents work together to bring families back together so they can thrive together.
Are You Ready?
“You have an opportunity not only to help a kiddo be successful long-term, but you have the potential to help restore a family.” Jay Priebe, a former foster child and previous CEO of foster care support organization, Hand in Hand.
“There is no single formula. This is not easy. But, you’re not alone. If you have the capacity to do it, there is nothing more important.” Adam, an LGBT foster parent
“We worked together, rather than against one another, in the interest of putting their family back together again.” Paul Cortez, foster parent
Becoming a foster parent isn’t a decision to make lightly. We understand that it’s a lot to contemplate. But you don’t have to do it alone.
Use this time to connect with agencies to find out more about the process of becoming licensed. Talk with experienced foster parents about the emotional struggle that accompanies reunification. Read about children who had success in foster care and about those who didn’t. Share your concerns with others and access the resources of non-profits made to assist foster parents.
To become a foster parent is to accept that sometimes people need an incredible amount of support. As you help others, let others help you.
You Can Do This.
We Can Help.
The decision to become a foster parent in Washington State is one only you can make. It takes hard work, dedication, and patience to work through and with a system that isn’t perfect. But, for those that commit, a treasure is waiting.
Are you ready to start your journey? Make a request to be contacted by a Washington State agency now.