What is Foster Parenting?
In the most basic description, foster parenting is opening your home and your family to children and youth from a non-related family and regulated by the Child, Youth and Family Services Act of Ontario. Fostering is so much more than that though.
Foster parents become a lifeline for children who need a safe and stable environment and the work done with a child can be the most rewarding experience of a lifetime.
A foster parent goes through background checks, an evaluation and training to ensure that only that safest and most caring homes are able to receive children. Some refer to fostering as a career and this is a clumsy term because a career would imply that foster parents are employees which they are not.
While foster parents must be supervised by a licensed foster care agency and strictly adhere to a set of policies and procedures, they are the front line partner in helping a child overcome a disability, trauma or mental health issue. Most foster parents find their role so important and rewarding that they continue to care for children until they retire. For some, even after retirement they continue to have contact with and participate in the lives of the grown up children that have come and gone from their home.
At times, foster parenting can seem to be the most thankless job in world which unsurprisingly is how regular parenting can feel. The sense of purpose comes from the lives touched and progress made over the years.
Lastly, a good foster parent is a hero for every child who desperately needs one.
Spouce Having a spouse or a partner is not an absolute requirement. That being said, foster parenting can take up a lot of time and can be emotionally draining. If you are single and are committed to fostering a quick self evaluation is helpful (flexible work schedule, few commitments for time, strong relationships with friends and family to lean on, etc.). For those who have a spouse or partner, does your partner share the same commitment to fostering, have an open heart and ready to help out in the same way as with your own children? Both single parents and couples can be excellent on the same level and during the evaluation period the strength of each family will be assessed to maximize compatibility with children needing care. Opposite to that if, as a couple, fostering will be “your thing” or you both have time commitments or find that you never have free time already – fostering is not a good option for yourselves or the children.
Children For many people wanting to become a foster parent there are always concerns about the effect on their own children and what role they will play. For a family with very young children it is recommended to wait a few years until their children have self care skills such as dressing themselves, toilet training and cleaning up after themselves as well as communication skills which will allow them to express their feelings to peer and their parents. This is important because is many cases, even if a child comes to your home at age 6, they may be emotionally or developmentally behind which will require a lot of attention that you don’t want to be juggling with very young children of your own.
Older children can be a fantastic help, especially when the child in care is around the same age. They can play games together, learn from each other and for your own child it can give him or her a unique perspective on life and how fortunate to be in a strong and loving family. While there may be times where everything may not be perfect it is important to remember that a foster home works together to resolve issues and in the end, be stronger for it.
Teenage or adult children can lend a helping hand where appropriate. While those under 18 cannot be left home alone with foster children they can keep an eye on younger ones while preparing a meal or other household chores. You children living at home who are over 18 can do babysitting (money is provided by Annie’s Havens for this) or can drive them to a visit with their family.
Extended Family Aunts, uncles, parents, brothers and sisters can all lend a hand (with proper background checks). Actually, it is encouraged that while respecting the child’s privacy (reason for coming into care or other specifics) the extended family can play an important part in making a child feel welcomed.
Children in Care
In 2014, the 44 Children’s Aid Societies across Ontario completed 81,048 investigations completed regarding child abuse or neglect allegations. That same year (2013 – 2014) there were an average of 15,895 children and youth in the care of Children’s Aid either with their own foster homes or through private foster/group care operators such as Annie’s Havens.
Aboriginal and black populations are by far overrepresented in the child welfare system which means that number of children from these communities is much higher per capita in comparison to others. This fact his historical significance for Aboriginal people and we must be focused on making sure minorities are able to leave foster care with their heritage, culture and religion intact.
Recently, the Government of Ontario has committed to extending the cutoff age of youth in care from 18 to 21. This has been achieved through the incredible work of the youth and staff of the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth. This means that these youth still have a lifeline while seeking education and developing life skills after high school. At the other end of the age spectrum, children can enter care at birth when there is concern for the safety of the infant.
Becoming a Foster Parent
Thinking about becoming a foster parent in Ontario is a tough choice. There are so many factors to consider. What is the process of becoming a foster parent? Will fostering negatively impact my family? What if I don’t bond with my foster child? How much compensation is given and will it cover my expenses? Should I foster for Children’s Aid or a private foster care agency? Let’s dive into these questions and hopefully provide some good answers.
What is the process of becoming a foster parent?
The process of opening your home to a foster child is divided into three main parts.
- Background check, medical and other screening
- Training including policies and child-related skills
- Home Study which explores the makeup of the home
When you apply to become a foster parent it all starts with a phone conversation. You will be asked questions like what kind of home you have, ages and genders of other people in the home, your work situation, etc. These questions are important since they let us have a better understanding of the home environment. We also do our best to inform prospective applicants of the risks and downsides of foster parenting thus allowing a truly informed decision to proceed or not.
Background Checks and Screening
The first line of defence in keeping children safe is to do proper background checks and screening of caregivers. Children are a vulnerable population and it is important that there is no reasonable doubt that a new home will offer a safe and loving environment. After speaking on the telephone, an initial visit at the home with a recruiter is arranged. This initial visit is to evaluate the condition of the home, verify the number of rooms available for fostering and to inspect for hazards.
Vulnerable Sector Police Check
Your local police department provides criminal background checks. Due to the fact that children are so vulnerable to abuse, they offer an enhanced screening tool called a Vulnerable Sector Police Check. This enhanced tool shows if there have ever been charges laid in relation to a child. Typically, this check can be completed within 24-hours of the request but may be longer depending on your region.
Child Welfare Background Check
While having a VS Police Check is valuable and mandated by law, it does not include all scenarios of potential historical abuse. Sometimes police are not involved in child welfare related cases.
As we all want to keep children safe, we also request a Child Welfare Background Check. This involves sending a request to your local Children’s Aid Society. Processing times may vary from 1-2 days to 3-6 weeks depending on the Children’s Aid. In almost all cases, Children’s Aid will send their response directly to the home and not the foster care operator for privacy reasons. That being said, to continue the foster parent recruitment process we will need the unopened CAS response to be forwarded to our office.
References Regarding Parenting Style and Character
Couples need to provide references for each parent and one reference who knows both parents as a couple. Family members can provide one of the references for each parent. Co-workers, family friends, etc. can provide the remainder of the references.
Once we receive the names, addresses and phone numbers of the references we will send them a form to fill out. After they have filled out the form they will use a provided postage paid envelope to mail the reference letter back to our office. The nature of the reference form is to establish parenting styles as witnessed by a 3rd party and the character of the foster parent.
We want people to foster for the right reasons and not for money. Some people see the compensation amounts and figure it would be a good “career” or “gig”. Opening your home to children who are not your own is a big deal. These children have needs that do not stop at 5pm. Some of their needs are very intense, especially in the beginning.
To help us filter out homes that are potentially “in it for the money” we ask that the most recent income tax statement is shown (not kept on record) for each parent. Potential foster parents must also outline their monthly costs for mortgage/rent, property taxes, vehicle loans and other major items. To be clear, we are not precluding people at the lower end of the income scale. We simply want to see that there is sufficient income to cover the expenses of the home without relying on the compensation from fostering.
Training Program for Becoming a Foster Parent
All foster parents must have a minimum level of training before their home can be opened for foster children. Below is a list of some of the topics discussed.
- Policies and Procedures
- Children’s Rights
- Cultural, ethnic, racial, gender, sexual orientation acceptance and competency
- Fire safety
- Medication administration and storage
- Reporting requirements
- Complaint procedures
- Childhood traumas and coping techniques
- Sexual abuse
- Human trafficking
- Severe neglect
- Unstable attachment
- Conflict management
- Working professionally as a team
- Avoidance of “power struggles”
- Addressing underlying causes of behaviours vs. behaviour modification
Training is not only mandated, it is an essential part of being prepared to deal with common children’s issues. The whole training process typically takes 8 sessions and 5 hours per session. These sessions take place during the weekdays while children are at school. Each private foster care agency will have their own unique approach to training. Children’s Aid Societies use an entirely different model for training called PRIDE (Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education).
Home Study Evaluation
The Home Study Evaluation is a document that focuses on the family history of the parent(s), parenting styles and other details regarding the home. Annie’s Havens uses the SAFE (Structured Analysis Family Evaluation) model which is also used by Children’s Aid and adoption practitioners. The questions asked during the home study process can be quite personal and uncomfortable for some people. Keep in mind that the purpose of the evaluation is to have a complete picture of the family environment so we can make appropriate placement decisions.
Several visits at the home with the parent(s) and other people living in the home will take place. The number of visits required is usually 3 to 4 at around 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours each. Once completed, the parent(s) have an opportunity to correct any errors or omissions before being finalized. The Home Study is then uploaded to the Ontario Child Protection and Information Network (CPIN) where it can be viewed by placement and protection workers as needed.
Fostering and Family Impact of Becoming a Foster Parent
Accepting foster children into your home can be both a positive and a negative for your family. We always need to “check in” with all immediate family members on their desire to become a foster home. It would cause a lot of turmoil if only one parent was on-board or if your children were apprehensive at the thought of having foster siblings.
Most foster homes indicate that fostering has been a net benefit to their family. Their own children become more accepting of people with difference backgrounds. Relationships are built which can last a lifetime. The personal reward of knowing that you have made a difference for a child and improved their future outlook is immeasurable. Some families even choose to adopt foster children with who they have developed a strong bond.
When there is discord in the family regarding fostering it can have a detrimental effect. It can put a strain on marriages and cause resentment in their children. In a small minority of cases, false accusations from foster children can cause a lot of hurt. In an even smaller number of cases, the foster family may be at-fault over an injury or neglect which leads to them having a protection file. When a Children’s Aid investigates accusations or concerns, there is little comfort in knowing that no wrong was done, the process itself can be humiliating.
Bonding with Foster Children
Let this be perfectly clear, it is ok to bond with your foster child. In fact, it is highly encouraged to find ways to appreciate each child in their own unique ways. Sometimes the ability to bond can be inhibited by behavioural issues, biological family involvement and many other factors. For those families that do develop a strong relationship with their foster children, it can be hard to say good-bye when they return to their family or get adopted. With adoption, it is more likely to be able to stay in contact with a former foster child but it is not always guaranteed. This separation can be quite traumatic depending on how long the child was with the foster home.
Annie’s Havens does provide counselling services to foster homes at their request to help cope with issues around separation.
For some people, they may find it impossible to bond with their foster child. These parents do not have to feel shame, guilt or be seen as unloving. The reality is that some people can connect and some people cannot without calling on others for help. Annie’s Havens encourages foster parents to speak about issues openly so that we can provide support. Where parents are finding it difficult to bond with their foster children we provide guidance to see if this can be overcome.
Compensation and Expenses
The money question… some people find it very difficult to talk about money and foster care. We can talk about compensation and expenses without feeling like it is the main reason for fostering. Foster parents receive what is called a “per diem”, meaning “per day”, amount for each child in their care. Annie’s Havens has received recent approval to offer foster parents $90 to $110 per day for each child which is much higher than most agencies. We offer a higher amount because the children referred to our program have more trauma-related issues than most foster homes.
The per diem is not taxed as income, however, there are expenses to be paid from it relating to the child. Personal care items, clothing, food, recreational and creative activities, drives (under 200km per month), over-the-counter medications and such are paid out of the per diem that foster parents receive. Higher cost items such as dental care, medical devices, prescribed medications, special needs programming, etc. are paid by Children’s Aid either directly or by reimbursement.
The daily cost of providing care to a foster child does not surpass the per diem. We encourage foster parents to be liberal with their spending on the needs of the children but a significant portion can be saved.
Private Foster Care Agency or Children’s Aid?
There are certainly people who foster who would say that fostering for a private agency is the overall better choice. Likewise, there are many who would say that the training and frequency of placements makes fostering for Children’s Aid the better choice.
Becoming a foster parent in Ontario for a private foster care agency offers some benefits over fostering with Children’s Aid. Private agencies are smaller, less bureaucratic and faster to respond to issues and concerns. Foster parents find they are valued on a personal level and not just a “resource” for a large organization. Training tends to be more relevant to the types of issues children present when coming into care. More choice and flexibility in whether to accept a child or not.
There are some benefits to fostering with Children’s Aid. Many offer a volunteer driver to take kids to appointments, a larger community of foster parents for peer support and the placements tend to be more straightforward. We always recommend that foster parents looking to care for children without trauma-related issues, without special needs or only want infants to apply at their local CAS.
Frequently Asked Questions
There is a comprehensive process to becoming a foster parent. Many people have good hearts and want to help children in need – it is our duty to those children that we ensure they are cared for in a safe, stable and competent environment. Below are some of the most common questions asked by potential foster parents. Due to the high needs of the children with Annie’s Havens, only couples with a special needs life experience are accepted. A major topic for most people is how will fostering affect their family.
Both the CAS and Annie’s Havens are licensed by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services on an annual basis using the same criteria. CAS has other responsibilities such as providing direct services to families in distress where there is no immediate protection concerns.
Support for the children and the foster families by CAS is structured somewhat differently from Annie’s Havens depending on which region the Society is located.
Annie’s Havens does have single parent foster homes, however, our policy on accepting new single parent homes changed in 2019. This was due to the generally high needs of the children in our care. There are severe time commitments for many of our kids. That being said, even couples need to meet a strong benchmark on mutual support and overlap of roles.
Of course! There was a highly undeserved stigma many years ago. Same sex couples are every bit as good at caring for children – it is sad that it took the child welfare system so long to realize it. In fact, we try our best to match LGBTQ2S kids with same sex couples.
We do. It can be difficult due to the lack of people willing to be foster parents. That being said, almost all our kids are matched according to the racial/ethnic background.
Foster parents are not “paid” in the tradition use of the word. There is a daily amount of money provided per child (aka “per diem”) to cover expenses related to the kids. The per diem is not a replacement for steady income. Foster kids come and go and the per diem is only paid when the kids are living at your home. Parents must be able to show they will not need to depend on the per diem to maintain their finances. That being said, there is a portion of the per diem related to “foster parent commitment” which varies depending on the agency you are with as foster parents.
Annie’s Havens parents receive $80-$85 depending on relevant education, experience and extra supports required. For example, 2 kids in a 30 day month at $85 per diem would receive $5100 – this pays for clothing, food, daily hygiene products, contribution to household costs, etc.
The Ministry of Children and Youth Services limit the number of children in a home to 4. However, physical space may further limit the number of children or other factors such as other legal children in the home.
Any major cost such as dental work, prescription medication, medical devices are paid for by Children’s Aid either directly or via reimbursement.
We can start the application process quickly. It takes time for background checks to be processed, completion of a home study and orientation training. If paperwork is returned to Annie’s Havens quickly and your schedule is flexible it can take as little as 2-months to open your home for placement consideration. Parents who have lived in different areas and have time constraints around training will take longer – no more than 3-months is our goal.
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