Children can end up in foster care when their parents are unable or unwilling to adequately care for them. The issue might be neglect, or it might be outright abuse. Sometimes, children are simply abandoned.
A social worker will involve the court in finding a safe home for the child when the California Department of Social Services becomes aware of the situation. The CDSS will arrange for temporary foster homes and shelter for the children while rehabilitating the parents or, perhaps, eventually placing the child for adoption if rehabilitation isn't possible.
Basic Requirements for California Foster Parents
Foster parents must be at least 18 years old in California, although there’s no cap on the maximum age provided that the would-be parents are healthy. Foster parents don’t have to be married. _Single individuals can qualif_y, as can two unmarried adults who are living together, as long as they can establish a stable relationship.
Foster parents must have a safe, insured vehicle, or they must provide the CDSS with proof of other available transportation, so they can transport the child when necessary. They must have phone service, either a landline or a cell.
Parents must be working or have verifiable other income. It’s OK if both parents work outside the home, but they must provide proof of satisfactory child care arrangements, and the child must be over 5 years old. Infants and toddlers must have at least one parent at home full time.
Read More: California Adoption Requirements
Housing Requirements for California Foster Homes
Foster parents don’t have to own their homes. Renting an apartment will suffice, but no more than two children – including any biological children the family might have – can share a bedroom. Each child must have his or her own bed. No more than six children, including biological children, can live in the same household.
Children over the age of 5 can only share a bedroom with a child of the same gender, and only infants can share a bedroom with an adult. Even then, no more than two infants and two adults can share the same room.
Common areas, such as a family room, basement or attic, don’t count as bedrooms, and no pathway to other areas can lead through the child’s bedroom. The home or apartment must be equipped with smoke detectors or sprinklers, and each bedroom must have fully operable windows.
Foster Parent Orientation and Training
The foster care process in California begins with an orientation program. Prospective parents must then attend the Resource Family Approval program, which teaches them the ins and outs of foster care and what’s required for them to become licensed. The RFA program also provides an ongoing support network after licensure.
The program takes place for 12 hours over 90 days, but some counties tack on an additional eight to 10 hours, which will take longer.
Prospective parents who aren’t already certified in CPR must undergo this type of training as well.
The Home Study
Fostering requires a home study in California, just as adoption does. The home study is scheduled after the RFA process has been completed. In California, it's referred to as the Home Environment Assessment.
A social worker will inspect parents’ homes for safety and adequate bedrooms, and they will establish whether there are any pets or weapons in the home.
The study doesn’t just involve the prospective parents’ homes. This stage of the process also verifies that the parents meet all other requirements. It includes proving employment, providing financial records, proof of identity, and Department of Motor Vehicle records, as well as establishing the parents’ previous experience with children and how long they’ve been married, if they are married.
The Licensing Procedure
The licensing process runs more or less concurrently with all these other steps. It begins after orientation when parents officially complete an application, which can be done online.
After submission of the application, parents are fingerprinted and undergo background checks to ensure that they’ve never been guilty of abuse or neglect and that they don’t have criminal records. Some counties also require health screenings.
Prospective parents must also undergo a psycho-social assessment, which includes at least two interviews, generally at the parents’ home. The assessor will want to know why they want to foster a child, what their own childhoods were like, and whether they’ve ever personally been victims of abuse. They’ll probably ask about any drug or alcohol patterns of usage. Other children living in the home will also be interviewed if it’s age-appropriate.
Ongoing Licensing Requirements
Parents will receive a certificate of licensure after successfully completing all these steps. They’re not quite done yet, however. Fostering requires attending continuing education programs to retain certification, but no further training is required if the parents are fostering to adopt in California.
Social workers usually visit foster parents’ homes on an ongoing basis after placement, at least for a while, and parents can be asked to assist in the process of potentially reuniting the child with his or her birth parents.
Finding the Right Child
The Home Environment Assessment is part of the process of matching families to the ideal child for them. The social worker will identify a child or children who seem like a good match, and will provide basic details about them to the prospective parents. A meeting will be set up if the parents also think the child is a good match.
How Much Does It Cost?
Families don’t pay a fee to become foster parents or to foster to adopt sibling groups in California, although CDSS Adoption District Offices might require a fee of up to $500 for other adoptions. Waivers, reductions or deferments can be granted, however. Adopting parents must also pay for any necessary classes, fingerprinting and court fees, but these costs can sometimes be reimbursed.
How Much Do Foster Parents Get Paid?
California foster parents receive financial support from the state, but it's not compensation – a fee paid for their services – and it’s not intended to help support their households. Rather, the payments are reimbursement for money spent on the foster child’s needs, such as food and clothing.
The exact amount depends on the county, and it can be more for special needs children. Reimbursement ranges from about $650 to more than $800 per child in San Bernardino County, increasing to an additional $80 to $840 or so for special needs kids, depending on the nature of their needs. A foster child’s medical and dental needs are covered by the Med-Cal program.
Other Considerations of Fostering
As of late 2019, CDSS has indicated that homes for adolescents are particularly needed, as well as homes that are large enough to allow siblings to remain together. Homes that can serve as emergency shelters are in demand as well, usually for placements of less than 60 days.
Fostering isn’t for the faint of heart, and it involves a rigorous qualifying process, but many people believe that the difference made in children’s lives is well worth it.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.