How to Become a Foster Parent with the State –  10 Steps and Tips for How to Expedite Them

**The info contained in this post is specific to fostering in Massachusetts. That being said, while every state has its own unique process, the steps listed here are similar to those used to license foster parents in other states.

As a foster parent, I’ve found that the better I’m able to understand the inner workings of the system, the better I’m able to advocate for myself and my foster child.

After much deliberation, you’ve decided to become a foster parent. Now what?

First, you’ll need to decide whether you want to foster with a public agency (your state’s child welfare agency) or a private agency.

This post isn’t about that decision (you can find a post on that topic here), but I will say that my number one piece of advice is to talk to other foster parents in your area about their experiences.

Though generalizations can be made about fostering with the state vs fostering with a private agency, the only way to find out what it’s really like to work with either in your area is to talk to people doing just that.

If you decide to foster with your state agency, here are the 10 steps you’ll need to take to be licensed. (Again, these are specific to MA, but they’re similar to the steps used by other state agencies).

How to Become a Foster Parent with the State:

  1. Fill Out The Online Application (Application A)

    The initial application can be found by googling “how to become a foster parent in… fill in your state,” or it can be found by calling your state’s child welfare agency directly. Application A asks for a lot of basic information, including everything the state will need to run your CORI (social security number, birth date, full name, etc.)
     
  1. Get Contacted By A Recruiter

    Next, you’ll be contacted by a local recruiter who’ll briefly go over everything involved in fostering, from how a child is referred to the agency, to why children are removed, to the types of foster homes there are, to a general overview of how cases progress.

    They’ll go over the basic eligibility requirements for foster parents (being 18 or older, owning or renting a home that meets state safety standards, having a stable income, and passing a background check).

    They’ll ask you why you’re considering fostering, what type of foster home you think you’d be interested in being, and they’ll let you know what the next steps in your licensing process will look like should you decide to proceed.

    **Tip: The recruiter may ask if you’d like to hear their overview of how the system works or if you’re already familiar with those details. My husband and I were pretty familiar with the system. He’d had a foster sister growing up, and I’d briefly worked with our state agency in college, but we still asked for a refresher. And I’m so glad we did! I took tons of notes throughout the conversation, noting the terminology our recruiter used more than anything else.

    If our goal is to be as informed as possible so that we can advocate for ourselves and our foster kids, then becoming fluent in the department lingo is key. I take notes during EVERY conversation with our resource worker, attorney, ongoing worker, court reps, etc. In my opinion, each repetition is valuable information.
     
  1. Fill Out Application B

    If, after your conversation with the recruiter, you still want to foster, then they’ll send you the next application to fill out. This one is shorter and focuses primarily on references. You’ll need several family or friend references, medical references from your PCPs verifying your and/or your spouse’s fitness to be foster parents, and if you have school age children you’ll need school references for each of them as well.

  1. First Home Inspection – The Physical Standard

    The first physical standard looks for major red flags, and identifies a to-do list of minor changes that need to be made before your home can officially be approved during your home study.

    Major red flags – you cannot foster in MA if you own a Rottweiler, Pitbull, or German Shephard (some states make an exception if your dog has been certified as a Canine Good Citizen).

    Other Requirements (not an exhaustive list) – 
  • All pets must be up to date on vaccinations and be licensed with your county.
  • If you have well water, you’ll need proof of an up-to-date inspection.
  • If firearms are in the home, you’ll need a license to carry and proof of proper storage (bullets and guns must be stored separately in a locked safe).
  • You must have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of the home.
  • Foster bedroom must have enough space for a child or children (need 50 sq ft per child and separate rooms for girls and boys if over 4 years old and not biological siblings).
  • Pool must be up to child safety standards.
  • If fostering young children, you’ll need to child-proof home.
  • If fostering older children, you’ll need appropriate storage for alcohol and any prescription drugs.

    Since we’d never had children before and were looking to foster little ones, our first physical standard identified two pages worth of things we needed to correct, from the cords on our blinds being too long to not having a carbon monoxide detector in our basement.

    But that was no big deal!

    We had plenty of time while taking our Foster Parent Training Classes to work our way through the list and make sure our home was ready for the second physical standard, which would be part of our official home study a few months later.

  1. Get A CORI Waiver Approved If Needed.

    Throughout the applications and physical standards process, your recruiter will let you know if any red flags came up on your CORI. If something was flagged, a CORI waiver will need to be submitted and approved before you can start Foster Parent Training Classes.

  1. Take Foster Parent Training Classes (Called MAPP Classes in MA)

    Classes can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to complete. It all depends on how frequently new sessions are starting up and how often the group will meet. Right now, MA is pretty desperate for new foster homes, and as a result, they’ve made completing MAPP classes efficient and easy.

    MAPP classes are still being held virtually, which means you can take classes with any area office, not just the area office you’ll end up working with. This gives you tons of options to choose from in terms of days of the week classes are meeting and how often they’ll meet (anywhere from once to three times a week).

    **This is where foster parents can really expedite their licensing process. Some classes meet twice a week, even throwing in a few Saturday sessions if the goal is to finish FAST.

  1. Connect With Your Family’s Social Worker

    At some point during your Foster Parent Training Classes, your family’s social worker (called a family resource worker in MA) will reach out to you. This is your family’s go-to person in the department. They’ll complete your home study, perform home visits, approve babysitters, get travel approved, and help you access the resources and reimbursements you’ll need.

    In MA, your family resource worker is required to meet with you 2-3 times (including the home study) before licensing.

  1. Get Fingerprinted

    Your family’s social worker will be able to walk you through how and where to get fingerprinted.

  1. Submit Up-To-Date Physicals

    You will need to submit up-to-date physicals for anyone in your home – you, your spouse, your kids, etc.

  1. Home Study

    The home study is broken up into 2 parts:

    • The second physical standard

      This is when your family’s social worker will go back through your home with the list of things your recruiter identified as needing to be addressed. She’ll collect any documentation that was missing and check off any physical changes that have been made to the home.

    • Interview you and your spouse individually

      At the time, I was a bit nervous about this part of the home study, but in hindsight, it was more of an opportunity for our family’s social worker to get to know us than anything else.

      She asked questions about what I believed were my personal strengths and weaknesses. And what I believed those would be as a parent. She asked about how I would discipline a foster child in our home and what my philosophy was on discipline.

      She asked a lot of questions about Micah and my relationship, how we met, what the division of labor in our family was like, and what I appreciated most in him. She asked how I thought he’d do as a first-time-parent and what I thought his strengths and weaknesses would be.

      She asked about our support network, who we’d be able to lean on during our time as foster parents, encouraging us to reach out to other foster parents, and offering to help us network. 

      All in all, the interviews were more like conversations with a friend than a test. I have no doubt that each social worker conducts this portion of the home study differently, but our experience was relaxing and really enjoyable!

Once the home study is completed and any final documentation has been submitted, the only thing to do is wait for your license to be approved (in MA, final approval is given by your area director). How long this takes largely depends on how busy they are and how urgently they need your home available.

Tips for expediting the licensing process:

The best way to speed up becoming a licensed foster home is to know what needs to be done and do it ahead of time. 

When you speak with your recruiter, ask her to outline your state’s specific step-by-step process in detail. And then try to be one step ahead whenever possible.

  • Notify references that you hope to use ahead of time.
  • Set up appointments with your PCP and pediatricians right away if you know you’ll need to get updated physicals for yourself and/or your kids.
  • Set up appointments with your vet to get your pets up to date on all vaccinations.
  • Childproof your home if needed.
  • Outfit the foster bedroom with the basics.
  • Ask the recruiter for the Foster Parent Training Classes schedule. Identify the session that will be the fastest and clear your schedule to accommodate it.
  • Once everything else is done, offer to be a respite home while you wait for your license to be approved.
     

Our licensing paperwork sat on our director’s desk until they needed to use us to be a respite home. No shade on them, they’re just so busy that until we were needed, our approval wasn’t a priority. 

The best way to expedite becoming a licensed foster parent is by knowing the steps in the process and staying one step ahead of the department at all times.

Fostering with the state is hard in a lot of ways, chief among them the fact that it’s a bureaucracy with poor funding and lots of red tape.

The reality is, even after I’d done everything in my power to get all our documents in on time or early, we still missed out on the first placement we were presented with because our area director hadn’t had time to sign off on our license. 

It seemed like a dream placement, and I was heartbroken.

In the end, it wasn’t until we agreed to help be a respite home for a baby they were having a tough time finding coverage for that our license was finally approved.
 

“The only way I can get you to do anything is by giving you what you want.”

How To Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie

My best advice for working with the state – from getting licensed to actively fostering – is to learn as much as possible about the department and its workers’ needs so that you can offer them as much help and support as you can.

Always keep in mind that workers are overworked and overwhelmed and seek out ways to make their job easier. 

Be on top of things.

Take initiative. 

Be a self-starter. 

And most of all, be grateful!

This last piece can be so hard when it sometimes takes 5 phone calls to get a response, but by coming from a place of understanding and gratitude, you’ll find that working with the state is 1,000 times easier. 

“The rare individual who unselfishly tries to serve others has an enormous advantage.”

How To Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie

Seek to be that rare individual from day 1, and you just might find that getting licensed and fostering with the state can be a blessing. I know that’s what we have found! 

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