Becoming a Foster Parent
If you’re considering becoming a foster parent for the first time, we’ve got resources especially for you, as well as links that will direct you to the appropriate licensing agency to begin the process to become a foster parent.
In Massachusetts, whether you are interested in being a foster parent or adopting through foster care….
- You need to be at least 18 years old.
- You may be single, married, partnered, divorced or widowed.
- You may either rent or own your own home. However, the living and sleeping quarters must be large enough to provide adequate space, privacy and safety for all household members, as well as comply with other state regulations.
- Your family must have a stable source of income to be able to adequately support all your current household members.
- You can be at home or work.
- Your home needs to meet safety requirements and standards.
- The Department of Children and Families will complete a Background Record Check as part of the licensing process.
No. DCF is the state agency that has custody of all children in foster care, and the authority to place them in a foster family when necessary. Although the majority of children are placed with foster or preadoptive families affiliated with DCF, DCF also contracts with various social service agencies to place children in foster homes. These agencies, located throughout the state, focus on intensive or specialized foster care, meeting the needs of children who have significant medical, physical, or emotional needs. Families who choose to do this type of foster care are assigned a social worker through that contracted agency to guide them through the process and provide support. If you’re interested in exploring this option, feel free to reach out to us, or click here for a list of contracted agencies in Western Massachusetts.
We recommend you read through our overview about foster care and adoption in our state. We would be happy to help you consider whether this decision is right for you. If it is, we can put you in touch with the appropriate social worker in your area who will begin the process.
If you already know that you are interested in becoming a foster or preadoptive parent through DCF, you can also call 1-800-KIDS-508 to talk about your interest. A social worker will answer any questions you have, and will begin the process when you are ready to proceed.
Once you are ready, a social worker will provide you with an Interest Form, which you must fill our and return. A physical standards check for your home will be scheduled to ensure that your home has working safety equipment such as smoke detectors, and that the living and sleeping quarters in your home provide adequate space, privacy and safety for all family members. If your home does not meet one or more of our standards, you are given time to comply and we will do a follow-up visit.When your home has passed the Physical Standards Check, you will be sent a foster care application form. You fill out the application, and send the completed form to the Department of Children and Families.
Background Record Checks are completed on each household member over age 14 because it is important to ensure that your household is a safe environment for placing a child. Once this process is complete, a home visit is scheduled.
After your completed application is received and all checks are completed, you are invited to attend the Massachusetts Approach to Partnership in Parenting (MAPP) training program. MAAP training sessions are approximately three hours per week over several weeks (condensed version of the program, over a few days, are also available). The MAPP training program helps you understand the foster care process and its requirements, the challenges faced by children in foster care, and will help you plan for the changes to your life and your family’s life with the addition of a foster child.
One of the MAPP social workers will visit you in your home, meet you and other household members, and will request references from you. Following the visits and reference checks, the social worker prepares a Home Study document. This document details your family’s strengths as well as its challenges and limitations. Your Home Study document will be reviewed, and (as long as there are no significant concerns) you will be approved for one or more children. When your family is approved, your home becomes licensed. Once your home is licensed, a child or children are able to be placed in your home.
Yes. As part of the licensure process, you and your social worker will decide together what child or children would be a best match for your home, whether those characteristics are age, gender, or something else. You can also elect only to consider placement of children who are legally free for adoption (children who are not at risk of reunification with their birth families because parental rights have already been terminated). It is important to note a few things, however: The more narrow and specific your criteria are, the less likely you will be able to be matched with a child who meets those criteria. Additionally, although you could have criteria in mind for a particular child, you might be given information about a child who falls outside those criteria either because the social worker has reason to believe that the child would be a good fit for your family (and he or she will share those reasons with you), or because a child needs placement and another match was not found for the child. In every instance, however, you are the one who ultimately decides whether a child joins your family and you have the right to say yes or no to any placement.
Children need to remain in touch with their birth families, since the goal in most cases is for the child to return to that home (or “reunification”), and they will typically visit with their birth parents weekly at a DCF office. It is important for the foster parents to support their foster child’s relationship with the birth family and not impede it in any way. Although best practices in foster care suggest collaboration and communication between foster/adoptive family and birth family is beneficial for children, it is not always appropriate or possible in every care. Your involvement with the child’s family is determined on an individual case by case basis, and is based in part on your own comfort level. When a child is adopted through foster care, you have the right to choose whether or not you have any ongoing contact or relationship with the child’s birth family.
Children in foster care have needs that are universal to all children. Above all, they need to feel loved, to have a safe living environment, and to feel part of their community. Like other children, they have educational, emotional, medical, and social needs that are best met in a stable family setting. By definition, children in foster care have experienced abuse or neglect and might also have needs related to those experiences, such as the need for psychological care, developmental intervention, or educational supports. Children in foster care need patient, loving, and supportive champions and advocates who are willing to be there for them the way any parent would. The safety of a supportive foster home can often be the place where children begin to heal from the trauma they have experienced.
It is impossible to determine how long a child will be in your home before that child is adopted or reunified with their birth family. Factors such as the length of time the child has already been in foster care, the length of time court proceedings take to schedule and be heard, as well as the extent to which birth parents engage in efforts to be reunified with their birth child all factor into the length of time a child is in foster care. In our recent experience, families have had children placed with them anywhere from 18 months to 5 years before an adoption becomes final.
Becoming a foster parent or adopting a child through foster care has no out of pocket cost associated with it. A small minority of families opt to hire an attorney to ensure they understand the legalities associated with an adoption, or for legal advice in complicated cases. But the vast majority of families do not, and therefore do not incur any financial cost at all.
That said, caring for a child can be expensive. Children need clothes, medical care, food, housing, and extra-curricular activities. All children in foster care have Masshealth, the state’s Medicaid program, for health insurance, and keep it until they are 21 (as secondary insurance) if they are adopted. Typically this means that all medical or psychiatric care a child needs is covered by their insurance with no out of pocket costs. Additionally, foster parents receive a stipend for the child’s care, which helps to ease the financial burden associated with raising a foster child. Children who are adopted through foster care might or might not maintain their subsidy post-adoption, and each case is reviewed individually.
All Our Kids was started specifically to provide a wide variety of supports to foster and adoptive families, both during the foster care process and post adoption.
Additionally, through DCF, your family will be assigned a Family Resource Worker who will come to your home monthly (for the first six months, then subsequently every other month). This person is tasked with helping you access needed resources, guide you through the process, answer questions, and ensure that you and your home continue to comply with safety standards. The child(ren) in your care will also be assigned a social worker, who should communicate with you about the case and help you access any necessary resources.
DCF also contracts with KidsNet, a program through Elliot Human Services (formerly the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, MSPCC) that helps you access childcare and respite services, provides a Family Resource Liaison who acts in a mentorship and educational capacity to families in need, and makes available a 24-hour hotline in the event of emergencies.
Lastly, there are other programs and services in the region, and we are happy to refer you to the one that might be right for you.
YES! It is hard! However, the rewards are huge! To take a child into your home, giving love and security that they might have never known, can have a life changing effect on these children, and on the foster families who care for them. Children do not make the choice to be in foster care, nor do they make the choice to experience the negative situations that necessitate their placement in foster care. But they do rely on those of us who make the choice to love them and cherish them despite the risks of loss. Whether you are in a child’s life for a day or a lifetime, you can make a positive difference to them (and they for you!), which is why so many of us believe the rewards are worth the emotional risks and challenges.
AOK was started primarily to provide support and resources to foster and adoptive families, but also to provide a menu of opportunities for members of the community to support foster families and foster children. Click here to read about these opportunities, or get in touch with us if you want to learn more. There is a role for everyone to support children and families whose lives are touched by foster care, whether you are able to foster/adopt or not. We need you!