When considering becoming a foster parent, it is important to understand how the entire process works. Each province and state will follow its own specific procedures and unique government guidelines. In order to become a foster parent in Ontario, you need to know what our province expects from new foster parents and how to go about getting started.
Before we get into the specifics of becoming a foster parent, it’s important to touch upon what drives people to become foster parents in the first place.
The motivation to become a foster parent
The first thing to consider is your motivation for fostering. What is it about being a foster parent that will get you out of bed each morning?
There can be many answers to that question. However, the one that is most often expressed by foster parents is seen in statements such as - “the deepest satisfaction comes when I see the progress and the development of my foster child.”
Motivation that lasts and sustains a foster parent is child-centered. Many foster parents have expressed that they “want to know I have made a difference in a child’s life.” This foundational motivation will help carry you as a foster parent through some practical obstacles and a range of emotions (not all positive) that are sure to arise.
What is the process of becoming a foster parent in Ontario?
The three main steps to becoming a foster parent in Ontario are:
The Home Study
Child and family matching
Let’s take a look at each of these and how they fall into the entire process of becoming a new foster parent.
The home study
The central piece of getting your home ready to be a foster home requires a document called a Home Study to be researched and written. The clinician who writes the Home Study will gather the information that confirms it is reasonable to place a child in your care.
To have the responsibility of caring for a child from the province of Ontario means you have stability in your family. It also means you have extras you can share with a child and your home is safe both physically and emotionally for a child.
The process of collecting the information required for the Home Study will require several interviews in your home.
The CAS (Children’s Aid Society) will require you to participate in the SAFE (Structured Analysis Family Evaluation). This is a standardized process used across the province by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies.
Privately owned and operated foster care providers (such as Nairn Family Homes) may or may not use SAFE as their methodology. They may use other tools to mine the information needed. Each methodology will cover the standard requirements of the province to document the safety of your home.
The length of time required to arrive at a finished Home Study depends partly on the efficiency of the Agency and the time you take to put in place safety features and accumulate the documentation needed.
Pre-service training is the training every foster parent must go through before being approved to foster a child in Ontario. Pre-Service Training varies in length for CAS and Non-CAS Agencies.
CAS agencies require 27 hours of PRIDE (Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education).
Non-CAS Agencies may have a different quantity and quality of pre-service training to provide you with the necessary orientation to their policies and procedures.
Child and foster family matching
Matching a child to a family they have never met and know nothing about, places a lot of responsibility on the decision-makers (i.e. the foster agency). It is important to interpret the information available to provide direction on what dimensions are most important in a potential family.
There are many factors to consider when deciding to match a child and a foster family. The research literature provides some principles as guidance but many nuances need to be considered which are specific to the child and his specific needs.
Some children need to be the only foster child or youngest foster child because of their specific needs. Some children may need a family with experience with a particular diagnosis. Some children need a family with multiple caregivers to provide a deep capacity to deliver care.
The well-being of the biological children in the foster home also needs to be considered and protected.The decision to select a family for a child needs to be done carefully and in collaboration with those who know the child and those who know the foster family.
Full disclosure of all the information about a child needs to be shared with the foster parents. The decision is ultimately their decision and that decision must be respected without reservation.
How long will it take to be matched with a child?
The length of time after the Home study is written to the placement of a child in your home can vary from a month to a year or longer. Matching a home with a child requires clinical expertise and collaboration with the referral source and the foster family.
Placements that are interrupted are serious set-backs to the child and to the foster home. Getting the match right is worth the wait for everyone. Some foster homes want only a certain age range or have limited capacity.
Some Children’s Aid Societies have fewer children in their system needing homes than others and some Non-CAS Agencies receive fewer referrals than others.
Getting a match with your home may mean waiting until that special child enters the CAS system or is referred to a Non-CAS program.
How long does the entire process of becoming a foster parent take?
The process to become a foster parent in Ontario will vary from agency to agency. In general, you can expect the entire process to take anywhere between 4 and 12 months.
Where should new foster parents start?
To get started you have to choose an organization that provides foster care in your area. There may be several organizations that are licensed to provide foster care in your county or city.
It is not widely understood that the province of Ontario supervises many organizations beyond the Children’s Aid Society who provide foster care. Privately owned and operated foster care programs, recruit, train and supervise foster homes under the same legislation as the Children’s Aid Societies.
Explore your options by asking foster parents you might know about their Agency or visiting the Ontario Association of Residences Treating Youth (OARTY) website for a list of privately owned programs. You can also contact your local CAS and ask for their foster parent recruiting department.
Just committing to be a foster parent is a noble and compassionate decision. It is a big decision affecting nearly every aspect of your lifestyle and functioning. The process is lengthy and caring for a child is demanding on your personal, (non-financial) resources.
Being a foster parent is not easy but it is a sure way to change a life and bring hope to a child. The rewards are more subjective than objective. You find fulfillment while learning important lessons about yourself and your children. You will also alter the trajectory of a child’s life and in time, the trajectory of succeeding generations. What could be more important?
To find out more about becoming a foster parent in Ontario please contact Nairn Family Homes.