Idaho Needs More Foster Care Parents. Can You Help?
Any child recently placed in foster care is going through an unimaginable ordeal. They may have suffered abuse or neglect in their households. Some children will be experiencing their first time away from their parents. Others may have been in the system before. Young children will usually be frightened, and older children are likely to be angry. What they all have in common is the need for foster parents to help them through this difficult transition.
In 2020, around 3,000 children in Idaho were placed in foster care. About 65% of all children who enter the foster care system will eventually be able to return to their birth families. But that still leaves a lot of children who need temporary placement — usually around 1,500 children at any given time.
Julie Sevcik, Policy Program Specialist at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, explains that foster parents are always needed. The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated the need. “This has also been a challenging time to recruit foster parents,” she says. “We are really struggling right now in identifying families who are able and willing to care for sibling groups and children who are age 12 and older.”
Why Become A Foster Care Parent?
The need for foster parents is acute. A foster home provides children with a temporary but stable environment that meets their physical and emotional needs. Good candidates for foster parents typically enjoy spending time with children, giving back to their communities, and providing mentorship.
Sevcik reminds any potential foster parents that family reunification is the primary goal of foster care. “We really are recruiting foster parents who can be that support to birth parents and not a substitute to the parent,” she explains. “We really want this to be a relationship between our foster parents, our biological parents, and the children … even after the case has been closed and the children have reunified with their parents.”
While the child’s time in foster care will hopefully be brief, foster children and foster parents still often create a lifelong bond. “We have seen amazing success stories where our foster parents stay in contact with the children and families they worked with through the foster care system,” Sevcik says. “[This includes] great stories about going to children's weddings even many years down the road.”
Idaho Falls couple Scott and Nicole Klingler were honored for their work as foster parents in 2021. They explained why they’ve cared for more than a dozen foster children over 5 years. Scott says, “We’ve often thought, how can you not help a child in need? Even if your heart does get attached and you go through some heartbreak and watch some hard things. Those children are also going through some hard things. If you have the ability to help them out for a little while, it may be the best time for them in their life, up to that point.”
Who Can Become A Foster Parent?
Foster parents come from all walks of life. They may be in the workforce or retired, married or single, homeowners or renters, and parents of biological children or child-free. Those who successfully apply to become foster parents need to be at least 21 years old. They should be willing to work with social workers and therapists and able to open up about themselves and their homes.
Children who have entered the foster care system have already suffered from instability. This means becoming a foster parent requires a background check, a home study, and special licensing. At the same time, the state also recognizes that no family is perfect. Your biological kids might be a little rambunctious, the house might be a little disorganized, and your schedule might be a little hectic. But the foster care system doesn’t need you to be perfect. It's looking for foster parents who are responsible, financially stable, compassionate, and able to care for a child.
Nicole Klingler emphasizes that almost everyone can be a foster parent. “Our experience has been that you can come in all shapes and sizes and all realms of money and abilities,” she says. “Everybody has something to give to a child in need. Even if you’re a single parent or you feel a little inadequate or too young or too old, you can still make a difference in having a foster placement in your home.”
What Is The Process?
Prospective foster parents in Idaho need to go through a licensing process. The first step in the journey is to request more information. After doing so, an experienced social worker or foster parent will call to answer any questions.
The next step to participate in foster care is orientation. It will teach potential foster parents more about the children who need care. This includes their roles and responsibilities as foster parents and how the application process works. Next, the prospective foster parent must file an application and undergo a background check. After advancing past this stage, the foster parents will go through training and assessment before finally gaining licensing and approval.
The entire process generally takes 90–120 days — long enough to ensure foster parents are prepared and fully vetted. But it’s fast enough to ensure placement for foster children as quickly as possible. If the foster care parent has a child placed with them, they will receive financial assistance from the state to support their needs.
Any foster parent will agree that their job is not an easy one. Many foster children have special needs, will suffer the effects of trauma, or have difficulty adapting to a new home. But most foster parents also agree that the rewards far outweigh the benefits. If you have the room in your heart and home for a foster child, you can make a difference that lasts a lifetime.