The expert: Lindsay Williams is the child welfare supervisor for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
Live Well asked Williams a variety of questions on the process of becoming a foster parent in Idaho, as well as the responsibilities involved.
LIVE WELL: How do you become a foster parent in Idaho? What is the application process like?
WILLIAMS: He/she must become fully licensed. The licensing process can vary widely but for people who want to open their homes to children, in general it typically takes about three months. For family members who want to become a licensed foster parent in order to care for a relative child, the process can be completed more quickly.
We try to make the process of becoming a foster parent simple and easy but there are still many steps involved. One thing that is important to know is applicants need to complete a fingerprint criminal background check. Past criminal activity does not automatically prohibit a person from being licensed – the situation is considered on a case-by-case basis.
Prospective foster parents also must complete a 27-hour training called “Parent Resource for Information, Development and Education (PRIDE),” built upon five core competency categories.
LIVE WELL: What is involved in the PRIDE training for foster parenting?
WILLIAMS: PRIDE is designed to help potential foster parents:
Navigate the child welfare system
Understand trauma and learn about grief and loss
Learn methods to protecting and nurturing children
Help to meet developmental needs and address developmental delays
Support relationships between children and their families
Connect children to safe, nurturing relationships intended to last a lifetime
Work as a member of a professional team.
Essentially, PRIDE provides applicants with foundational information to assist them in deciding to proceed with licensure. The final important piece is that all potential foster parents will complete a home study.
LIVE WELL: What is the home study process?
WILLIAMS: A home study consists of two parts.The first is an inspection to assess the home environment for safety. Some of the items assessed include gun safety, water features, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, storage of medication and household chemicals, pets, space for children and emergency exits.
The second piece of the home study is an in-depth interview with a social worker who asks about family members, their motivation to foster, PRIDE (concepts), finances, physical and mental health, parenting and discipline philosophies and more.
As you can see, the process is fairly extensive, but it is important that it is thorough. It not only helps to ensure our kids are safe, but it also demonstrates a real commitment by the applicant, which is critical.
We need foster parents who are dedicated, persistent and focused on the end goal – safe and nurtured children.
LIVE WELL: What do you consider to be the key attributes to being an ideal candidate for foster parenting?
WILLIAMS: First and foremost, they have a desire to use their talents and a willingness to open their home to make a difference in a young person’s life. Along with this desire is a set of personal skills that allow a foster parent to be successful. These include flexibility, the ability to problem solve, being a team player, determination, and an ability to nurture.
It is also very important applicants understand the department prioritizes reunification - keeping children with their parents whenever possible and, if not, to keep them with their extended family if feasible.
More than 70 percent of children in Idaho foster care are reunified with their birth family. If a potential foster family is looking to adopt and that is their only goal, the department is not the appropriate avenue. We encourage families to consider private adoption.
We find the most successful foster parents are those who embrace the whole family, taking on a mentoring approach by building relationships with biological parents, extended family and other people who are important to the children they are fostering.
LIVE WELL: Can foster parents request specific parameters or do they need to be willing to take on a full spectrum of ages and circumstances?
WILLIAMS: Foster parents can request parameters and boundaries to their work. Through completing PRIDE and the home study process, foster parents are able to determine and communicate how many children they would be willing to take, ages and genders, and which special needs they are willing to consider for placement and which ones they do not feel they would be able to care for.
LIVE WELL: While reunification is the ultimate goal, are there foster situations which lead to adoption by the foster parent?
WILLIAMS: We work hard to help families heal so that children can return to their families. However, there are instances where children cannot go home and if appropriate family members cannot be located, a child could be adopted by their current foster family.
LIVE WELL: How do you help foster parents prepare for the various and unique challenges that come with bringing a child into their home? What kind of ongoing support do you offer foster families?
WILLIAMS: Some of our foster children are dealing with major challenges. We do a number of things to train and support our foster parents to be prepared to manage the unique challenges of foster parenting. First, Idaho provides the comprehensive, 27-hours of pre-service training.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare also offers ongoing foster parent education at monthly support groups, an annual foster parent conference, therapeutic interventions and in-home services to help support children and foster families.
Foster parents are never left to deal with problems on their own. We contract with Fostering Idaho to provide our foster families with a Resource Peer Mentor (RPM) (seasoned foster parents) who walks them through the licensure process, their first placement and provides ongoing support.
Licensing workers are also a source of support to our foster families and provide resources and training opportunities to our foster families. The department makes every effort to meet the needs of the children in care as well as the foster families providing them care.
LIVE WELL: What about support during the time when children leave their foster family?
WILLIAMS: The department recognizes how difficult it can be for foster parents to love and nurture children in their care and then transition them home to their parents or to family members. Foster parents can experience grief and loss when children reunify, so the department provides support to the whole family through education, peer mentoring, and counseling.
LIVE WELL: How does the department support foster families with the costs associated with caring for a child?
WILLIAMS: One worry for many prospective foster parents is the cost. We do what we can to remove that barrier from the process. Foster parents are provided a monthly stipend for the children placed in their homes based on the ages of the children. We also support children with vouchers for things the monthly stipend does not cover – such as diapers, clothing, or reimbursement for transportation costs if excessive treatment or medical appointments are necessary.
LIVE WELL: What about medical care for the children?
WILLIAMS: All Idaho foster children qualify for Idaho Medicaid if placed in our state, so there are not medical expenses for our foster parents. The needs of the children are assessed monthly. Many of our foster children are in services such as counseling or day care, which are either covered directly by Medicaid or the department. In addition, through the Idaho Child Care Program, day care costs may be covered if the foster family meets the requirements.
LIVE WELL: What kind of need is there for foster parents in North Idaho? Do more people need to become part of the process?
WILLIAMS: Unfortunately, the answer to that is an emphatic “Yes!” There is a shortage of foster parents across the nation and Idaho is no different. We have a tremendous need for foster parents across the state.
There are currently 1,581 children in foster care in Idaho, 234 of those children located in the Northern Panhandle. We have 158 licensed foster homes in Region 1, 58 of those being relative homes, which means we currently only have 100 general care homes. Each time we get a new licensed home it is a blessing for our children and families.
LIVE WELL: Since reunification is so important, how do you support birth families in bringing their children back home?
WILLIAMS: The goal for foster care is to ensure the safety of children and safely reunify children with their birth families if possible. We work hard to help families heal. Birth families/guardians are required to successfully complete a court ordered case plan that details the areas of concern and outlines specific tasks that each parent must successfully complete so their children can return home.
We are happy to say we have hundreds of successful reunifications across the state each year. Parents are able to learn, grow and heal and find they are able to safely support and nurture their children.
During this process, foster parents provide the safety, security and stability that children need - they are an integral part of the process. Many foster parents find that they develop lifelong bonds not only with the children but also with the parents who are so grateful that someone is willing and able to give so much to their family in a time of need.
LIVE WELL: How can people get started in the process of becoming a foster parent?
WILLIAMS: The department values our foster parents and recognizes that they are the backbone of our program. Foster parents provide daily care to our most vulnerable children. We recognize that it is often a difficult and emotional journey. Foster parents change the lives of children, but also the families.
We welcome anyone who has a heart for fostering to attend one of our informational meetings across the state. Please contact Lindsay Williams at (208) 665-8953 or visit www.icwrtc.org for additional information.