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A learning process: Becoming a foster parent requires thought, answers
Shannon Casas picks up items at the end of the day at the day care center where the children she fosters stay.

Fostering first

Times Metro Editor Shannon Casas and her husband recently became foster parents. This series explores her experiences as a new parent in that special role. Read previous entries by following these links:

First story
Second story
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Fourth story

I knew foster parents were badly needed in Hall County when my husband and I signed up.

When we began our training with the private agency FaithBridge Foster Care, I remember telling others in the class we took in Alpharetta that we lived in Hall County, and it was really bad here.

I didn’t have numbers to back that up, though. This week, we’ve shared those numbers. And yes, it’s bad. Of all the counties in Georgia, there are only three worse than Hall when it comes to beds available for the kids in foster care in those counties.

There are a number of problems with the Division of Family and Children Services that will have to be fixed at the state level.

The number of homes in Hall County is something the residents of Hall County can fix.

Our local DFCS office is still working to get up to staff in order to offer the needed training, but as we’ve shared, there are classes available in other counties and through private agencies.

Of course, becoming a foster parent is not for everyone. We’ve shared other ways you can help like becoming a volunteer or sponsoring a child’s music lessons or sports team.

For those who think they may want to take the big step of becoming a foster parent, here are some answers to questions I often get, which I hope can guide you in your decision. Circumstances will be somewhat different for those becoming foster parents through DFCS or another private agency.

Do you have any say in which children you get?

We were able to select an age range as well as check off which race or ethnicity we’d accept, along with what kind of medical and developmental issues we thought we could handle. When we were called about the two children who now live with us, we were told some of their background and asked whether we wanted to take them. You can say no when that call comes.

How long does it take to become a foster parent?

It took us about six months to complete all the training, paperwork and other requirements. That’s highly variable, though. For many, it can be shorter. We did a weekend-long training with FaithBridge, scheduled doctor’s appointments, did CPR training and had to get a few things in order so we could complete all the paperwork. After that came the home study, where we were peppered with personal questions and the house was looked over for necessities like child-proofed cabinets, fire extinguishers and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Do they pay you to take care of the children?

Yes. Each child has a daily per diem we are paid on a monthly basis. In our experience, it’s enough to provide for their basic needs: food and diapers. Children may have a higher per diem if they have special issues like medical or developmental concerns, which may require therapy or other appointments.

Day care is also paid for by the state, a huge expense as any parent knows, along with medical and dental care. We also receive money for their clothing, which goes a long way but probably doesn’t cover it all when you think about things like shoes and winter coats. There are charities that provide clothing, though.

Many other things like haircuts, car seats or a child’s allowance can be covered but it varies a bit depending on the county. We must keep receipts and file expense forms at the end of each month in order to get reimbursed.

How often does your caseworker drop by?

The caseworker is required to see the kids once a month, but visiting them at day care is one option. I’ve been told that DFCS policy is that they see the kids in the home at least every other month. In our experience, it’s always been scheduled in advance, but unannounced visits are a possibility.

We typically have our family consultant with FaithBridge attend these visits as well. You will also have a Court-Appointed Special Advocate for the child who will want to visit. When possible, we schedule them all at one time so it’s just one disruption for the month.

Are there rules about taking the children out of state?

Yes. We must get approval from the biological parent or judge before we can take the children out of the state overnight. We had to provide the dates of travel and address where we’d be staying for our summer vacation along with the nearest hospital and police department.

What about baby sitters?

Our baby sitters must be at lest age 18, fingerprinted and background-checked, along with have reference forms completed and a few other papers for FaithBridge. They can only baby-sit at our home or at a public place.

Do you get to adopt them?

Parents’ rights must be terminated in a court proceeding before a child is available to be adopted. Once that happens, foster parents are typically given the first choice to adopt.

As DFCS moves toward terminating parental rights, though, it likely will be looking for that permanent home, meaning you may be asked to make a decision without knowing whether the children will really be available.