Jennifer Maddox

Becoming a foster parent starts with information and the right agency

Tammye Nash | Managing Editor

There’s a whole lot more to being a foster parent than just wanting to be a foster parent. That’s especially true for same-sex couples and LGBTQ singles who want to foster children, since there are some agencies that refuse to work with LGBTQ people.

So the first step, according to Jennifer Maddox, is to find just the right agency. Maddox is director of foster and adoption for Jonathan’s Place, a Dallas-based foster and adoption agency that works with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to place children in foster homes.

Maddox explained that Jonathan’s Place was the first agency in Texas to earn the seal of approval from Human Rights Campaigns All Children All Families Project, a program of the national LGBTQ advocacy organization that “promotes LGBTQ inclusive policies and affirming practices among child welfare agencies and formally recognizes those agencies that are leading the field with innovative approaches to inclusion,” according to the HRC website.

Maddox explained that those wishing to be foster parents in Texas can go directly through Texas Child Protective Services, which does work with LGBTQ potential foster parents. But they can also get licensed through private agencies that work with CPS.

“DFPS contracts with agencies throughout the state, and those agencies train and recruit and license foster families,” Maddox said.

For those who go through a private agency, prospective LGBTQ foster parents first need to make sure they choose an agency that will work with them. To do that, Maddox said, “you might be able to explore an agency’s website to find out, or you can call and ask.” Or, she said, you can attend a joint information meeting.

“You can find a joint information meeting in your area on the DFPS website,” Maddox said, noting that the state is divided into 11 regions, and North Texas and Jonathan’s Place are in Region 3.

“Joint information meetings are not required” for potential foster parents, she said, but it is a great place to get an overall preview of the process. That’s also where potential foster parents can get a list of agencies in their area and what families those agencies are willing to work with.

It’s about more than just if a particular agency will work with LGBTQ foster parents, Maddox said. “The question,” she said, “is not only will they license your family, but also, are they supportive of your family. Make sure you have an agency that isn’t just trying to increase their numbers but are actually going to support your family, be there for you when you need them.”

Once you have chosen an agency, Maddox said, then you attend that agency’s orientation session to “get a better idea what that agency’s training and licensing process is like and find out what their specific requirements are. You can actually attend as many orientations at as many different agencies as you want.

You are not committed to anything by attending, and there’s no cost. That way, you know you have found the right one.”

She explained that while CPS sets the minimum standards every foster family has to meet, different agencies can set requirements of their own beyond those minimums.

Once you have chosen an agency, that agency’s representatives will explain the state’s requirements, and you can start the process of becoming licensed.

That pre-verification process will “look different for each agency,” Maddox said. But in general, you have to complete training, submit the required documentation and then go through the home study. There is, she said, a minimum of 30 hours of in person training, followed by about 10 to 15 hours of online training. After the training, potential foster parents must pass a complete background check, that includes having them run your fingerprints, undergoing a TB test, providing references, documenting their education, providing a financial history and a budget.

“There is no specific income requirement,” she noted, “but you have to be able to show that you can meet the needs of your home.”

Documentation also includes a floor plan of your home, because the state does have square footage requirements and submitting the floor plan lets the agency know how many children your home can accommodate.

Once you have completed all the training and submitted all the documentation, Maddox said, then you schedule the home study. “Expect about a three to five hour interview, depending on how many people are in the home,” she said. We have to interview each individual in the home. If there are two parents, we interview them together and then individually. Then there is a whole family interview.”

Minimum standards for the home study interview include “talking about your childhood and your parents and your understanding of the needs of the children who have experienced abuse and neglect. We ask about your motivation for being foster parents, about your willingness to maintain birth family connections. There is a financial section where we document your employment and your income and your bills. We ask for a 10-year residential history, and we look at the community you live in, in terms of resources, what’s near you.

“It is a very detailed document,” Maddox continued, “so it takes some time to complete. But we want it to be very thorough, because this home study is what CPS will see if you are submitted for placement. We want it to paint a very clear picture of your family for them, of who you are and how you would care for the children.”

When the home study is written, the agency submits it to CPS, and if approved, you are then a licensed foster parent. The licensing procedure takes about two to six months — “depending on your own speed in completing the training and providing the documentation” — and “then you wait for a placement,” Maddox said.

And in Region 3, it probably won’t be a long wait, she said, noting that “there is a huge need here for foster parents.”

Most agencies allow the foster parents they work with to set certain parameters regarding children they are willing to take, in terms of age range, gender preferences, race preferences, which behaviors the parent feels they can handle. And each agency can set their own regulations, within minimum standards.

Any time there is a child or children needing placement, all agencies in that region have access to those potential placements. No agency, not even CPS, gets priority on making the placement. “We are just looking for the best match,” Maddox said.

Once a child has been placed in a foster home, the foster family has a case manager assigned to them to help make sure they maintain their license but staying up to date on training and maintaining compliance with minimum standards. And for those families who move from fostering to adopting, the state will continue to provide you with benefits.

Those services for foster parents are important, Maddox said, because fostering can be a difficult situation.

For instance, CPS’s ultimate goal is to return children to their biological families, and when that happens, “We recognize it can be difficult emotionally,” she said.

“There will be sadness,” she continued. “You are going to connect to that child, and the child will heal through their relationship with you. We understand the difficulty of them leaving. But we ask you to take on that sadness as an adult, so children can be safe and heal from their trauma.

“Support from your agency is really important during those times,” Maddox said. “We recognize that you are going to feel that loss, and that you need to take a moment to grieve that loss before you bring another child into the home.”