The decision to become a Foster Parent is a significant and serious one. For those who are considering it, the process should start with a lot of personal introspection. Together with some reflection on your existing relationships, family dynamics, and the extended family. It should also include delving into your financial situation, your future goals, and a host of other considerations.
But naturally there is much more to becoming a Foster Parent, than simply making the decision; the formal process has many intricacies.
Ideally your journey towards Foster Parenthood should begin with an understanding of what the concept involves. As well as what the administrative procedure really entails.
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What is Foster Care, Anyway?
Children in Foster Care are those who are under the age of 18, and who for personal reasons cannot live with their parents or caregivers. But also cannot live independently. Through a legal process, for their safety and wellbeing these children are admitted into the care of Children’s Aid Society (CAS) that is run by the province.
The CAS may then choose to place certain selected children in Foster Care, which is a family-based placement. The CAS arranges to have these children live with pre-chosen and pre-screened Foster Parents who are eager to provide a nurturing family environment and a stable and caring home.
From the child’s perspective, the Foster Care placement is not designed to be permanent. The goal of Children’s Aid Society – which gets its authority as a “licensee” under the Child, Youth, and Family Services Act, 2017 – is ultimately to reunite a child with his or her original family. Only when it is possible and safe to do so. This means Foster Care may be brief, or it may last for extended periods of time, depending on the circumstances.
How Do Children Get Placed into Foster Care?
A child will get placed into Foster Care in only a few circumstances:
· By court order; or
· When their parents or caregivers have agreed to have their child placed in Foster Care voluntarily.
From the perspective of the CAS and other child services agencies in Ontario, the goal of these Foster Care placements is ultimately to reunite the children with their family.
Are There Different Types?
Yes. There are different arrangements of Foster Care, which include:
· Kinship care. This involves the child being admitted into the care of the CAS, but then being placed with a relative, or with a member of the child’s community.
· Placements for kinship services. These arrangements involve placing a child with a relative or a member of the child’s extended family or community, with the consent of the child’s parent, or under a supervision order issued by the court. (Alternatively, it may arise during an application for legal custody). Unlike other Foster Care scenarios, in this type of arrangement the child is not initially admitted into the care of the CAS.
· Customary care. This is an arrangement where a child of First Nations, Inuk, or Métis origin receives care from a person who is not the child’s parent. The caregiving is still in accord with
the customs of the child’s band. Note that anytime the eligible child is a member of a band or First Nation, Inuit, or Métis community, the CAS is obliged to pursue the Customary care model. If the child is in need of protection and cannot remain at home.
Who Can Be a Foster Parent?
Aside from a desire to benefit a child who has not had a nurturing environment so far in their lives, there are few pre-requisites for becoming a Foster Parent. Naturally, the key one is the desire to contribute meaningfully and consistently to the child’s wellbeing and upbringing. The potential Foster Parent need not have any particular marital, financial or social status, nor be of any particular age bracket.
In terms of their culture or background, a Foster Parent can come from any heritage, religion, or financial stratum. However, for the particular type of Foster Care known as Kinship care, the Foster Parent must be a relative. Or else a member of the child’s community.
In Ontario, Foster Parents can only provide Foster Care to up to four children at a time. (However, there are exceptions).
What Does the Formal Process Involve?
In terms of the legal procedure involved, becoming a Foster Parent involves several steps:
· Contacting the local Children’s Aid Society (or else a licensed Foster Care agency);
· Participating in a Home Study assessment (which is mandatory); and
· Participating in parent preparation training. All of these steps must be undertaken before the potential Foster Parent can be approved. The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies also provides detailed information about Foster Care and the related steps and processes.
What if Foster Care isn’t Appropriate for a Child?
If Foster Care turns out not to be a feasible option for a particular child, then he or she may be placed in the extended care of the CAS, pursuant to a court order. However, these orders are a last resort. The CAS may opt to explore other permanent options, including Customary care, legal custody, or adoption.