8 THE COMMUNITY PLACEMENT PROCESS: FOSTER CARE
Foster care refers to temporary care provided when a parent, legal guardian or customary care provider is unable to care for a child. A foster parent may be related or unrelated to the child. The goal of foster care is to provide a safe and nurturing home for the child to help limit the disruption in a child’s life. Unlike adoption, in which the rights and responsibilities of the child’s birth parents are legally terminated and transferred to the adoptive parents, the foster parents do not have the same parental rights over the foster child as the birth parents.
22.214.171.124 Formal Foster Care
Formal foster care typically occurs when the court grants the State the right to take temporary custody of the child and to arrange for relevant foster care arrangements accordingly. The State’s child protection authority is responsible for the oversight of the foster care placement and ensures that the placement is safe and meets state foster care regulations and child welfare laws. The children’s court/family court ensures that all relevant laws and procedures are observed and that rights of all parties are protected. The change of care must be legally authorized and regulated by the State or a foster care agency. Countries with formal foster care have clear legislation, guidelines and policies that govern such arrangements. There must be adequate documentation before a transfer of care can happen within a formal foster care arrangement. Benefits to such formal foster care arrangements include proper monitoring and regulation of care arrangements.
126.96.36.199 Informal Foster Care
Informal foster care is a private and temporary arrangement between a child’s parents and another party, who is usually a family member, a relative or family friend. This transfer is not overseen by the State or a family court. There is no change in legal responsibilities which remain with the child’s parents. The parents retain the right to make all major decisions pertaining to the child. Kinship care is a type of informal foster care. Kinship care occurs when a family member or relative, or person from similar social origin, tribe or community agrees to care for a child on behalf of the parents. The arrangement is done without the involvement of a third party or the State. Fostering by kinship care may also happen spontaneously or unexpectedly in emergency cases when a family accidentally comes across a child who happens to be unaccompanied or separated and they decide to offer temporary care. There are many benefits to informal kinship care, including the ability for the child to maintain familial and community roots.
8.1.2 Key Stakeholders
Key stakeholders specifically involved in a foster care arrangement include:
Foster Parents – the UN General Assembly’s Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children considers a foster parent as someone other than the child’s own family and customary care provider with whom the child has been placed by a competent authority to be cared for in a home or family environment.
Unaccompanied child – a person below the age of 18 and as defined in Article 1 of the UNCRC, as being separated from both parents and other relatives, and is not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so.
Foster Parents Support Worker – personnel of an agency who support the foster parents through home visits and counselling, and recommend ways to work with the child. The Foster Parents Support Worker may also be responsible for selecting and matching foster parents with a foster child.
Quality Assurance Worker – personnel of the agency who are responsible in assessing, monitoring and evaluating each foster care placement individually, and also the overall foster care programme.
Case Manager – personnel of the agency that provides case management services. Case Managers are responsible for assisting the child with the foster care placement and the monitoring of the placement.
Community Representatives - typically a leader from the community the child and/or foster parents are a member of. The community representative plays a crucial role in helping the foster care personnel link up with the community for the purposes of recruiting potential foster parents, receiving referrals, and developing community integration and support for the child.
Roles and responsibilities of some of these key stakeholders are available in Annex 33.
8.1.3 Minimum Standards of Care in Foster Care
Minimum standards of care in foster care ensure that the fostering service meets programme goals of safety, stability and well-being. The standards ensure that a child’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled, and allows the programme to maintain a consistent standard of quality in care among all relevant stakeholders. This ensures that a child in foster care placement have all their basic rights and needs fulfilled. Relevant stakeholders should strive to go above and beyond the minimum standards. A list of minimum standards of care in a foster care arrangement is provided in Annex 34.
8.2 Foster Care Process
8.2.1 Screening of Foster Parents
The screening process involves a preliminary screening of the potential foster parents. The primary focus of this process is safety, and therefore, to screen out persons whom an organization cannot be reasonably confident will be able to provide safe living arrangements for a foster child. It is important to ensure that the right persons are referred as potential foster parents.
A suggested process framework is as follows:
Organize briefings for potential foster parents on what foster care is about and the processes involved in becoming a foster parent. Other partner agencies may also refer potential foster parents for consideration.
Potential foster parents must fill in a Foster Parents Application Form (refer to Annex 35) and submit it directly to the organization or through a community representative.
In the Foster Parents Application Form, potential foster parents will be asked for two referees who will need to write a reference for the foster parents.
Contact the two referees and request them to fill up the Foster Parents Reference Form (refer to Annex 36). The referees should not be related to the potential foster parents but should have sufficient knowledge of them and willing to be honest and open in providing comments about them.
Once both referees have returned the Foster Parents Reference Form, determine if the potential foster parents fulfil the basic criteria and safety requirements to become foster parents (refer to Annex 37 for the Basic Screening Criteria for Foster Parents in the Programme).
Make arrangements for an intake interview with the potential foster parents and their families who fulfil the basic criteria and all the safety requirements.
8.2.2 Intake of Foster Parents
During the intake phase, gather enough information about the potential foster parents to determine if they are able to provide care for the child and if they are willing to play that role. The intake process is important to ensure that the parents have the personal disposition and available resources to be foster parents and are aware of the heavy responsibility of being foster parents. A suggested process framework is as follows:
Conduct an intake interview with the potential foster parents and their family members based on the Foster Parents Intake Form (Annex 38).
Conduct the first home assessment to ascertain if the home and the neighbouring area is suitable for a foster child to be placed there.
After the home has been assessed, inform the foster parents of the areas in which they have met the requirements, and provide advice on the areas they would need to work on to achieve the required standards.
If the home has very low potential in meeting the expected standards (e.g., there are too many people living in the home, or the home is located in a dangerous area, or the home is very dirty and poorly maintained, etc.), there is sufficient reason to reject the application. If an application is rejected, politely explain the reasons to the foster parents and recommend ways to improve, if the foster parents still want to continue with the application.
Generally, it can be assumed that the higher the number of deficiencies in the home and neighborhood that is assessed, the lower the potential of the home being used for foster care, especially as more effort and resources are needed to fulfill the required standards. However, if the foster parents are willing to take the effort and use their resources to make the changes, continue to advise them until they are able to meet the standards.
With the information obtained from the intake interview and if the foster parents are willing to comply with the housing recommendations, the application can be approved.
Once the application is approved, inform the potential foster parents of the requirement to attend a series of training sessions to further equip them for the role before being considered for the selection process.
The purpose of the training phase is to equip potential foster parents with the necessary skills and knowledge to take on the fostering role. During the training sessions, potential foster parents are provided a safe environment to participate actively, ask questions, voice their needs, and share with other foster parents their strengths and areas to improve. A suggested process framework is as follows:
Plan a series of training sessions, taking into consideration the time, length and location of the sessions so that the foster parents are able to attend. Take note of work schedules, risks and costs involved in travelling to the training venue, and the need for childcare. Identify potential foster parents with difficulties in attending or participating in the sessions and provide the necessary assistance accordingly.
Inform the potential foster parents of the date, time and venue of the training sessions.
Key topics which will be covered during the training sessions include:
Minimum Standards of Care (found in the Manual)
Basic listening and communication skills
First aid and guide to healthy living
How to keep children safe
How to deal with strong willed children
How to help children who have trauma
Psychosocial development of a child, particularly teenagers
Maintaining healthy parent-child relationships and developing positive parenting skills.
Throughout the training sessions, continue to assess if the participants have acquired the basic knowledge and necessary skills to provide at least the minimum level of foster care required.
Keep a record of attendance of the participants. On completion of all the required training sessions, present the participants with a certificate of participation but also inform the participants that this certificate of participation is not an acknowledgement that they have been selected to be foster parents. All potential foster parents will have to undergo a final selection process.
The trainer will complete a trainers report on each potential foster parent (see Annex 39 for a Trainers Report template).
This is the phase when it is decided if a child can be entrusted into the care of potential foster parents, who not only should have adequate resources and the capacity to provide for the child holistically, but should also be well enough to look after the child. Each application should be assessed objectively and fairly. An extensive and accurate Home Study Report should be prepared to assist the decision making process. A suggested process framework is as follows:
Conduct a second visual assessment of the home to see if the house, living situation and family circumstances are still suitable for the programme and if the changes suggested during the first visit have been carried out
If there are more adjustments or improvements to be made, the Foster Parents Support Worker will explain what needs to be done and support the potential foster parents, where needed, to make the changes. They will be given as much time and support as needed to make those necessary changes.
Conduct a final interview with the potential foster parents and their family.
Compile information gathered from all the interviews and home visits to develop a Home Study Report (see Annex 40).
The Home Study Report will be presented at a Selection Committee meeting. The composition of this Committee is to be determined based on the availability of resource persons. The Committee is tasked with deciding whether the potential foster parents should be selected to be part of a pool of foster parents ready to foster a child. Decisions are made based on the minimum standards attained and information contained in the Home Study Report.
Once the Selection Committee has approved the selection, assist the potential foster parents to undergo a medical check-up to confirm that they are free from any communicable diseases that could affect the child. Communicable diseases to be tested are those transmittable by air and through food such as:
Hepatitis B and C.
Once the foster parents have obtained the medical report to confirm that they are free of any communicable disease, they will be given a letter of acceptance. The foster family is now ready to be matched to a foster child.
If one or both of the foster parents is/are found to have a communicable disease, make a decision as to whether to withdraw their application from the selection or to continue with the process. If the foster family is withdrawn from the selection, refer the person with the communicable disease to relevant organizations that will assist with relevant medical care.
If the decision is made for the foster parents to continue with the process, support and assist foster parents in obtaining necessary treatment, or provide further training on guidelines to reduce the spread of the particular disease if it cannot be treated.
Where the Selection Committee has rejected the application, the potential foster parents will be given a letter stating the reasons for the decision. Potential foster parents may choose to appeal the decision in writing, stating the reasons why they should be selected for the programme. The decision of the Selection Committee after the appeal is final.
Every child has a different set of needs and this may mostly be met by a particular foster family as compared to another. Aspects to be considered during the matching phase include the child’s age, gender, temperament, immediate and long-term needs, and personal circumstances; the foster family configuration, parenting and foster care experience, language and cultural compatibility with the child, location of the home, and availability at the time of placement. All these factors are to be considered and balanced against one another when matching decisions are made. A suggested process framework is as follows:
A Matching Committee is formed to review and select a foster family that best fits the profile of the child. The Matching Committee should, at the very least, consist of the Case Manager, the Case Supervisor, the Foster Parents Support Worker and an independent expert on child care.
Prior to the Matching Committee meeting, a recommended list of criteria the child would need in a home environment, or the type of foster parents needed, based on the intake information is prepared.
These criteria will be reviewed and a shortlist of recommended foster parents who are deemed best suited to the needs of the child is developed. The Matching Committee will identify the best foster parents who would fit the needs and best interest of the child.
Contact the chosen foster family and provide a brief verbal description of the foster child such as his/her biodata and other important background information. Risks and challenges in looking after the particular child, as well as the strengths the family has which can potentially be of help to the child should be highlighted. Allow the foster parents to express any concerns they may have.
Once the chosen foster parents are ready to continue with the process, arrange for the child to meet the foster family at their home. If the chosen foster parents are not ready to continue with the process, select the next foster family that best fits the profile of the child.
On the day of the child’s visit to the foster family’s home, introduce the child to the foster family and vice versa. Both the child and the foster family should get to know one another better during this meeting. The child will be taken around the home and see where he/she will be sleeping. Monitor the interactions between the child and the foster parents to generally assess if it is a suitable placement. There can be more than one visit organised if needed.
After the meeting give the foster parents time to discuss with the rest of their family members to decide if the child is a good fit for their family and if they wish to foster the child. At the same time, the child will also be given time to think if the family is a good fit.
If both parties are agreeable to the foster care arrangement, explain to the foster parents the terms and conditions, including the resources the organization is committed to provide, based on the foster family’s available resources and the needs of the child.
Prepare a Foster Parents Agreement Form which will state all the terms and conditions. The form will be translated into the language the foster parents understand. If the foster parents agree to the terms and conditions, they will then enter into an agreement with the organization by signing the Foster Care Agreement Form (Annex 41). Once the agreement has been signed, make preparations for the child to move into the foster home.
8.2.6 Placement: Orientation and Rapport Building
This process prepares the family and the child for the move into the foster home. It is important to create a suitable environment for the child and the foster parents to build rapport and to be more at ease with each another’s company. The main objective of the orientation is to allow the child and the foster parents to work out expectations, concerns and fears so that the fostering relationship starts on the right footing. A suggested process framework is as follows:
Before the child moves in, ensure that the child’s living space is fully equipped, such as bedding and a cupboard to store the child’s belongings.
Provide the foster parents with additional information about the child which they will need to know to help meet the child’s needs and care plan, and clarify the roles and responsibilities of the foster parents.
Plan an agenda for the orientation session which is to be conducted on the day the child moves to stay with the foster family. The orientation session is an informal event to welcome the child into the foster home and to help make the child feel comfortable and at ease with his/her new family. A sample agenda may be as follows:
The foster family helps the child move his/her belongings into the room.
Everyone gathers in the living room for some light refreshments.
Make some introductory remarks and outline the agenda for the orientation.
Everyone introduces themselves, how they want to be called, and perhaps, say some fun facts about themselves.
Carry out some icebreakers to encourage everyone to communicate and interact with one another.
Invite the head of the household, to say something to the child on behalf of the family.
Depending on the age and personality, the child can also be invited to say something to the foster family.
Talk about the hopes and expectations for the child through this programme while reinforcing the goals of foster care.
Clarify roles within the family:
Who does what in the family
Who to ask permission from and for what purpose
How to introduce the child to people outside the family.
Clarify house rules, especially unspoken rules (which should be made explicit) including: access to food, bed time, meal times, television viewing, house chores, and curfew.
Establish routines by helping the child understand family daily routines, weekend schedules and family rituals.
Clarify any health issues, particularly chronic health concerns or disability, relevant medication to be taken and hospital appointments.
Clarify how the Case Manager will be involved in the placement.
Clarify any further questions the child or foster parents may have.
Closing remarks to end the session.
Carry out an orientation session based on the above agenda with the child and the foster parents.
After the session, make arrangements for the next home visit to be conducted approximately two weeks later.
Information in this section has been adapted from the Manual on Foster Care for Unaccompanied and Separated Children and the Handbook for Foster Care Agency, developed jointly by UNHCR Malaysia and SUKA Society, April 2018. The Manual and Handbooks are available at: http://www.sukasociety.org/resources/foster-care-manual-handbooks.↩︎