Thinking of becoming a foster parent? Read on for insights and advice from a local expert on everything from getting started to getting it right.
Synonyms for the word “foster” include nurture, raise, promote, further—actions that can make a world of difference when applied to an at-risk or underprivileged child. In recognition of Foster Care Awareness Month this May, we talked with Nicole L. Mudd, a foster care home-finder for Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth on Long Island, about what it takes to be a foster parent, rights and responsibilities of the job, and other ways to help children in need.
What is the process like to become a foster parent?
The first [step] would be to contact an agency in your local area…to see what their policy is. There is usually a training period you would need to go through, and they also do a fingerprint background check as well as a background check through the state central registry for child abuse and neglect, to have [potential] foster parents and any other members of the household cleared. It’s a matter of doing paperwork, going through the training process based on what the agency requirements are, [and] waiting for the clearance papers to come back stating that you are eligible.
What are the qualities of a good foster parent?
First and foremost is really being a team player and working together with the agency, county workers, and with the birth family in order to meet the child’s goal of either returning home to the parents or being adopted. [And] meeting the child’s needs, whether it is medical needs or behavioral needs or any type of emotional needs that they have—really just being caring and loving.
How do you know when you’re ready to become a foster parent?
I would say definitely know your comfort level as to what you feel you can provide for a child. If you don’t have any experience with a child with developmental disabilities, take some training classes or try and get the most knowledge possible to be able to meet that child’s needs. If it’s a medical condition, most agencies provide training based on whatever it is so [the foster parents] will meet the child’s needs. It’s all about meeting the child’s needs so that they can meet their ultimate goal by either being adopted or moving home to their families. It’s definitely a big responsibility [and] it’s a lot of work, but in the end…foster care is really [about] making a difference in the child’s life.
What are the responsibilities of a foster parent?
Working with the agencies to get the child to medical and dental appointments, assisting them in reaching their permanency goal, [and] understanding and encouraging birth-parent-and-child visits.
They have the right to say no to us for a placement—it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to call them the next time. They can say “I want one child,” or “I want a sibling set,” or “I can take five.” They have a lot of rights. They’re included in all agency planning in regard to the child’s school. We give them as much information as we possibly can before we place the child there, because that helps the parent to meet the child’s needs.
What adjustments can foster parents make to ensure the child has a comfortable and nurturing experience in their homes?
Allow the child to have some input as to what their room might look like. Allow them to have some ownership there. Allow them to share things. One of the biggest things we encourage our parents to do is have the child pick something that they want for dinner—every member of the house picks dinner for a certain night, [and] they all cook it together. The more input the child has, the more likely they are to feel comfortable there and the more likely they are to kind of follow along with the rules of the home.
How else can someone unable to commit to being a foster parent help?
There are volunteer opportunities if you’re not able to open your home to a foster child. There are plenty of opportunities out there [to] make a difference in a child’s life, like mentoring programs, Big Brothers Big Sisters. There are a lot of mentoring programs out there where you can still be that positive adult in a child’s life if you’re not able to open your home to be a fulltime foster parent, because it is a huge commitment.