For children who are removed from their homes due to neglect or abuse, finding a loving foster family can provide stability and hope during an otherwise turbulent transition. For those who open their homes to foster children, the experience will be challenging, but can be positively life changing, too. If you’re in Indiana and considering becoming a foster parent, the place to start your exploration is with the Indiana Department of Child Services. The Indiana DCS oversees foster care placement and dictates the foster family licensing process. Through DCS, you can discover how to become a foster parent in Indiana, including the documents and forms needed to start the licensing process, the required background checks, the necessary training and how to complete the home study process.
What Is the Foster Family’s Role?
It is important to understand the specific role a foster family plays in a child’s life, because, while the main goal is to provide a safe, nurturing and stable environment, fostering comes with a unique set of caregiving responsibilities. The first thing to know is that by design, foster care is temporary. The end goal is for children to be placed in a permanent, loving home through reunification, adoption or legal guardianship. While fostering does sometimes lead to adoption with the foster family, the goal for most children is reunification with a family member.
In addition, DCS outlines seven duties of a foster parent, who must:
- Commit to participating in Child and Family Team Meetings or Case Plan Conferences. These meetings are designed to bring together family members, community providers and DCS professionals to create a plan for the child/children.
- Agree to support the Case Plan goals that are set during these meetings or conferences.
- Participate in court hearings.
- Meet the child’s basic needs, including food, shelter and clothing.
- Maintain the confidentiality on any information about the child.
- Support the approved visitation plan. A visitation plan for parents, guardians and siblings is put in place for every child within five days of removal from her home, unless the court has not ordered visitation.
- Help the child maintain a positive association with her family of origin. Foster families are asked to not speak negatively about any member of the child’s family, keep a neutral attitude when talking about visitation, and provide a nurturing space where the child can express feelings about her situation.
Who Can Become a Foster Parent in Indiana?
To become a foster parent in Indiana, you must first be licensed by DCS. To qualify for licensure, you must be at least 21 years old and pass a criminal history and background check. You must also be able to prove that you are financially stable, own or rent your own a home that is up to safety standards and has adequate bedroom space, have reliable transportation and, if cohabiting, have been in the relationship for at least one year. Further, you must provide a statement from your doctor verifying that the physical and mental health of all household members will not be damaging to a foster child and submit positive personal reference statements from friends, family or coworkers. Licensed foster parents must complete DCS training requirements, including First Aid, CPR, Universal Precautions training and 10 hours of mandatory pre-service training. Finally, licensees must complete the required forms and undergo a home visit from a Regional Licensing Specialist.
Several types of criminal convictions disqualify a person from becoming a foster parent. Although there are waivers in certain cases, the DCS Central Office Background Check Unit disqualifies anyone whose criminal history includes a conviction or pending conviction for a misdemeanor related to the health and safety of a child, any felony, four or more misdemeanor convictions, or a juvenile conviction for certain felonies, such as murder, battery, sex crimes or arson.
Starting the Foster Licensing Process
If you believe you can fulfill the role of a foster parent and are qualified for a license, then you are ready to start the licensing process. Call the Indiana DCS at 1-888-631-9510 to speak to a DCS employee about your interest, or visit the Indiana DCS website to fill out an inquiry form. Foster parents can be licensed through either the state or a private agency, and you’ll be able to find a full list of options in your area on the DCS website, or through a DCS employee.
Understanding the Required Forms and Documents
The road to becoming a foster parent starts with a lot of paperwork. All required application forms are available on the Indiana DCS website. To help guide you through the required forms and documents and how they fit into the overall process, refer to the Initial Licensure Checklist for Foster Families. According to this checklist, to initiate the application process, you’ll need to complete and return to the agency the following items:
- Form SF 10100/ CW 0317: Application for Foster Family Home License
- Copies of the driver's licenses for the applicant and all household members who drive
- Form SF 52802: Indiana Request for a Child Protection Services History Check. You’ll need a form signed for each member of the household, even minors.
- Form SF 53259/ CW 3610: Application for Criminal History Background Check. You’ll need to submit a form for every member of the household who is 18 and older.
Then, prior to your initial home visit, you must complete the following items:
- CASEY Foster Family Assessment, or if licensed through a private agency, Form SF 53199: Child Behavioral/ Health Challenges. This is a checklist of health and behavioral issues that potential foster children might exhibit. You can fill out this inventory with the licensing worker and indicate how comfortable you are fostering a child with each health or behavioral challenge.
- SF 54607: Foster/ Adoption Family Inventory. On this form, you'll provide information about your work and family history, and answer questions about your personality, parenting ideas and relationships.
- Water Agreement. This form is to certify that your house is serviced by city water or that you will pay for your well water to be tested.
- SF 54642: Resource Parent Role Acknowledgement. On this form, you'll acknowledge that you understand the expectations for foster parents in Indiana.
Finally, the licensing worker will need to collect the following information and documents at or after the first home visit. Although the required forms will be completed by the licensing worker, you want to be familiar with the content to ensure you meet the requirements.
- On-site Home Visit complete
- SF 53186 53186/CW 3417: Resource Family Home Physical Environment Checklist
- Family Network Diagram
- Pre-service training completion
- CPR course certification
- Universal Precautions course certification
- Results of National Fingerprint Based Check for those over 18
- Results of local law enforcement check for those over 18
- Results of Sex and Violent Offender Registry check for residents over 14
- Results of CPS History Check for all household residents
- SF 45145/CW 0039, Medical Report for Caregivers
- CF 45144/CW 038, Medical Report for Household Members
- Four completed reference letters
- Child care plan
- Completed CF 53788, Vendor Information
Completing Criminal Background and Child Protective Services History Checks
Both the Criminal Background Check and the Child Protective Services History Checks are initiated when you fill out the initial application forms, and must be completed during or shortly after your home visit. The criminal history check is to prove you have not been convicted of a disqualifying crime. For this check, you'll get your fingerprints taken, allowing DCS to search the national criminal records database. The CPS history check is to determine whether you or anyone in your household has been reported for child abuse or child neglect. It can take up to 10 days to receive the results of your CPS history check.
Meeting the Training Requirements
A potential foster parent must complete several types of training before being licensed in Indiana. First, applicants must get certified in first aid and CPR and submit evidence on or after the home study visit. Next, applicants must complete Universal Precautions training. This training teaches precautionary practices when dealing with blood-borne pathogens. Finally, applicants must complete a pre-service training. DCS requires 10 hours of training for foster parents, consisting of three classes. The first class is an introduction to DCS, the second covers the effects of abuse and neglect and the third teaches about discipline, attachment and effects of caregiving on the family.
Undergoing a Home Visit
One of the last steps in becoming a licensed foster parent is passing the home visit. During the home visit, the licensing worker evaluates the physical environment of your home to ensure it meets the minimum mandated requirements for a foster home. The best way to ready your home is to consult the Resource Family Home Physical Environment Checklist (found on the DCS website), which is the form the licensing worker will complete during the home visit.
Your first task is to ensure the safety of your home. The licensing worker will be looking for a clean interior and an exterior free from dangerous or hazardous conditions. Repair any exposed wiring, potential fire hazards and chipping paint. Secure all household cleaners, detergents and medications. Ensure any firearms are unloaded and stored in a locked cabinet separate from any ammunition.
Next, make sure that your home meets the minimum space and amenity requirements. The bedroom for a foster child must provide at least 50 square feet of personal living space, have a bed for the child, adequate space to store personal belongings and two exits; it may not be in a hall, basement or living area. Your home must have working utilities, a working telephone and a functioning bathroom. You must have one smoke detector within 10 feet of each bedroom door, a carbon monoxide detector and a 2.5 pound ABC fire extinguisher on each floor. Your kitchen must be clean and sanitary, and the furnace, heaters and stove must be operational.
The home study will also verify that you have access to transportation, and if you have a vehicle, will require a copy of your driver’s license, registration and insurance. If you are potentially caring for younger children, you will need to have appropriate car seats.
There are also requirements for a water analysis if you have well water, and a safety plan if you have a pool.
What Are the Financial Costs and Benefits for Foster Parents?
While money is not a sufficient motivator for becoming a foster parent, you should consider whether you are financially able to take on the care of a child. Two questions to ask before fostering are "How much does it cost to become a foster parent in Indiana?" and "How much do foster parents get paid a month?"
There is no direct cost to become a foster parent. However, you may need to pay for the background check, but will later be reimbursed for the cost.
As far as payment, foster families receive a per diem to cover out-of-pocket expenses, which varies depending on the type of services offered and the age of the child. As of 2018, the per diem for Foster Care for one child age 0 to 4 was $20.53; ages 5 to 13 is $22.29; and ages 14 to 18 is $25.72. The per diem is higher for those providing therapeutic and additional services. Foster children are either covered by Medicaid or the placing agency, so foster parents are not responsible for medical expenses.
- Indiana Department of Child Services: About Foster Care
- Indiana Department of Child Services: Foster Parent Requirements
- Indiana Department of Child Services: Instructions for the Completion/Submission of Indiana Request for a Child Protection Services History Check
- Indiana Department of Child Services: Child Welfare Policy
- Indiana University: What is a Child and Family Team Meeting
- Indiana Department of Child Services: Out-of-Home Services
- Indiana Department of Child Services: Resource Parent(s) Role
- Indiana Department of Child Services: Foster/Relative Licensing and Placement Forms
- Indiana Department of Child Services: Facts for Foster Parents
- Indiana Department of Child Services: Foster Parent Per Diem Letter
- Indiana Department of Child Services: Pre-Service Training Requirements
Sally Brooks is a writer living in New York City with her chunky toddler and patient husband. She graduated magna cum laude from the University Cincinnati College of Law and her work has been featured in Jurist and the Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review.