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.
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. Safe Harbours 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.
Safe Harbours 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. Safe Harbours 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. Safe Harbours 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 are no barriers to become a foster parent based on race, ethnicity, sexuality or gender. Foster parents are expected to be tolerant and supportive of children in their care regardless of their background or identity.
You, and any other adult in the home, MUST have:
- A clear criminal background check
- No verified child welfare investigations
- No unmanaged health issues
- No addiction issues
- Stable income and manageable debt
- Clear understanding of English
- Reading and writing comprehension
- A commitment to attend all mandatory training
- Apart from these requirements, the most important requirement is a capacity to care for all children in loving and nurturing manner.
Typically you need one free bedroom with a closet and window on the main sleeping level of the home. However, we prefer homes which have two free bedrooms in the event a second youth matching the home’s care profile is referred to Safe Harbours.
Townhomes, semi-detached and detached homes are the only configurations we accept. The area of the home should be approximately 1800 sq. ft. or higher. The property should be clear of hazardous items such as exposed nails, fire hazards, unfenced swimming pools, etc.
Each home should have a common recreational room where everyone can spend time together.
Not with Safe Harbours. Other organizations may take on single applicants, however, we do not. The reason for refusing single applicants is that there needs to be another adult who earns a stable income. Single applicants tend to depend on the foster care per diem for income which is not its purpose.
Safe Harbours prefers to have foster homes where one caregiver can stay-at-home. The amount of time needed to attend appointments and meetings, as well as unexpected emergencies like illnesses or school closures / suspensions, can be quite a lot to handle.
For these reasons we cannot accept applications from homes where both adult caregivers are employed. That being said, if you still wish to foster you may apply with your local Children’s Aid Society or Family and Child Services organization.
For Safe Harbours, our target is between 2 – 3 months, depending on a few factors. Caring for higher needs youth will require more training. Speed of background checks varies by region.
See “What are the steps to become a foster parent?” down below.
Below is a list of the paperwork and steps required to open your home for foster care. Beside each item is an expected time to completion – times may vary by region or other reasons.
- Initial Phone Call // 20 Minutes to 1 Hour
- Initial Home Visit // 1 Hour
- Vulnerable Sector Police Check // 1 Day to 4 Weeks
- Child Welfare Investigation Check // 2 to 12 Weeks
- Medical Clearance // 1 Week
- Five (5) Letters of Reference // 2 – 4 Weeks
- Driver’s Abstract // 1 Day to 2 Weeks
- Proof of Auto Insurance // No Wait
- Proof of Home Insurance // No Wait
- Well Water Test Result (if applicable) // 1 – 2 Weeks
- Pet Vaccination Records (if applicable) // 1 – 2 Weeks
- Income Verification via Tax Records // 1 Day
- Pre-Service Training // 40 Hours
- Home Study (three or more visits) // 1 – 1½ Months
Steps 3-12 are done concurrently. Training can begin once all previous items have been collected and approved. When training is near completion, the Home Study can begin.
The Home Study is a large document that is created which details your family makeup, history and parenting styles. It is an essential document to fostering and no home may open in Ontario without one. Some people find the questions of the Home Study to be very personal which can cause some discomfort. If you are very private, consider that questions about your relationships and family history will come up before you apply to become a foster parent.
Safe Harbours uses the SAFE (Structured Analysis Family Evaluation) model for all Home Studies. This requires a minimum of three interviews at the potential foster home lasting about one hour each. NOTE: Foster parents may review the Home Study for errors or omissions, however, it is the property of Safe Harbours and parents will NOT be given a copy to keep.
Foster parents don’t earn a typical income. They are given a set amount of money per day for each child they care for, called a “per diem”. From the per diem, foster parents must buy food, clothing, miscellaneous daily care items, reasonably costed recreational/arts programs, etc. The per diem is not viewed as a form of compensation. Foster parenting is not a job and foster parents are not employees. It is expected that foster parents pay for all the child’s needs from the per diem. There are high cost items which are reimbursed (see next Q&A item).
Foster homes are required to spend their own money to make their home suitable to accept children. These items may include the purchase of beds, filing cabinets, medication lockbox, smoke detectors, privacy locks, etc.
Across Ontario, the typical per diem ranges from $45 – $70 with some slightly higher or lower. Safe Harbours’ per diem offers a premium to this average to help support stay-at-home parents (homes must still have two adult caregivers). The base per diem ranges from $75-95 (this is daily for each child) plus $5 for following the rules/regulations and attending training and finally $10 to pay for overnight care (respite which is time off basically). The total financial support adds up to $90-$110 depending on prior experience being foster parents and the care program that the child utilizes.
For more detail on the per diem please visit the Foster Care Per Diem page. There you will find much more detail about how it is not taxable, expectations of how it’s spent and more.
- Dental (covered by CAS insurance)
- Prescriptions (covered by CAS insurance)
- Medical devices
- Intake initial clothing (typically $200)
- Airfare (in many cases)
- Other items not related to typical daily care (case-by-case)
All of our programs come with clinical support hours. If those are no longer needed, they can be used for extra respite (“time off”) or more support hours from a Child and Youth Worker (CYW) – whichever is more beneficial to the youth and home dynamic. Homes are also assigned a Resource Worker to help keep filing in order, stay compliant with regulations, assist in case management, etc.
Youth in our Trauma and Behavioural programs also have an in-house Clinical Director attached to their file to help guide them to local mental health resources and ensure that Safe Harbours aquiring the best services possible for each youth.
With the exception of the Mainsteam program, there are a set number of hours per month which can be used for one-to-one support from a qualified CYW. CYWs with enough experience can make a tremendous difference in the life of a young person. They can also give valuable tips to foster parents in coping and managing behaviours.
Yes. However, some children have no experience with pets. Extra care should be taken to acclimatize children placed in your home to your pet(s). In some cases, children can be abusive to animals which would be considered before placing such a child in your home. Remember, you are always given as much information as is available to Safe Harbours and the final decision to accept a child is yours.
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