Step One: Attend an Orientation Session
In December, I attended an orientation session at Five Acres Foster Family Agency. It’s one of several very well respected private agencies that work with the County of Los Angeles to provide foster family placements for the kids that need them. Those who are interested in pursuing foster care are encouraged to visit different agencies as well as County offices before deciding through which agency they want to get their certification. I didn’t look very hard.
I immediately liked the woman who would be doing my training and was impressed by Five Acres and what services they’re able to offer. They’re more than just a foster agency and run residential care facilities, provide mental health services and domestic violence prevention in addition to foster care and adoption. Five Acres is one of the oldest agencies in LA, having been around for 125 years, originally operated as The Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society of Los Angeles – an orphanage for abandoned children.
During the orientation session, I learned that there are several different levels of care from volunteerism to respite care (giving respite to parents who are currently fostering) to short term fostering to foster/adoption scenarios. The trainer also showed a couple videos– one on Five Acres and one interviewing teenagers who had grown up in the system and the struggles they faced, included feeling unwanted and under loved. My heartstrings were pulled tight and I walked away from that meeting thinking, “How could anyone NOT do this?!”
(I could list at least 50 reasons why someone could not want to do this.)
The need was so overwhelmingly present to me that all I could do was to think that I was meant for this. I just had to take one step at a time.
Step Two: Certification
Different agencies run their training processes differently. Five Acres holds an 8-week training and certification program, which they sometimes cram into a weekend. The county’s program is a bit shorter.
I started my certification process on February 13th, 2014.
During the first week of my certification session, I arrived to find my trainer and a young couple who had skipped the orientation session but were attending because they hoped to adopt through the county system. By halfway through the session, I knew I’d never see them again. Why? Because this stuff is scary and it’s hard and they had no idea what they were getting into. They had no idea how often children you think will be yours are suddenly no longer yours. They had no idea how long it takes to get a child to an adoptive status…if that even happens.
The first goal of foster care in LA County and beyond is really that these kids are safe, but ultimately a very important goal is family reunification. The best place for them to be is in their birth family if that family can prove healthy enough to take care of them well. I remember at one point in my certification course looking at my trainer and saying, “All of this is ridiculous! If I had my own baby, I wouldn’t have to do any of this.” Her reply—“You have to be perfect. They have to be good enough.”
As I went through the process, I caught on to the teaching method. Week by week, new processes were revealed which a) was frustrating but b) also kept me from running away and worrying about how I was going to pay for and get everything done. So…if you’re interested in certification but don’t want to know, skip this list:
Things you will be required to do to become a certified foster parent in LA County (in no particular order and not comprehensive):
- Get your home inspected and in line with County specifications:
- Lock up all your knives, cleaning supplies and medications. With a LOCK.
- (Yes, even if you think you’ll only have babies who can’t walk.)
- Get a landline. Yup. A landline.
- Cover all your outlets.
- Buy an escape ladder in case your bedroom catches on fire and you can’t get to your front door.
- Map out your apartment, all entrances and exits and all utility shut off valves.
- Test the temperature of your hot water and prove that your hot water is not too hot.
- Buy a crib…or a bed.
- Have a super intense, invasive home study that asks everything about your family of origin, your financial situation, your relationship status, your lifestyle habits, your community, your everything. Be prepared to share.
- Turn in a copy of your driving record and car insurance policy.
- Get CPR/First Aid certified.
- Get a live scan background check (a.k.a. get fingerprinted).
- Get a physical and a TB test.
- Get your potential childcare workers live scan background checked (also a TB test, physical and first aid/CPR certification).
And finally, get patient and flexible…because you just never know what’s going to happen or which regulations will suddenly change in the course of the process.
To be continued…