Foster Care is a protective service provided to families experiencing difficulties so severe that children must be removed from their homes for a period of time. Children are removed to insure their physical and emotional safety. Foster parents are DCYF's major resource for children who need to be placed outside the home. It is the role of foster parents to offer a safe and stable home to these children while working with the agency to prepare them for their reunification with their parents. While children are residing in a foster home, a variety of services are provided to parents and children with the objective of resolving the problems that led to placement.
Foster parents are licensed by the Department of Children, Youth and Families to care for children who must temporarily leave their parents' homes. Many of these children have been abused and neglected, and have been removed from their homes for their own protection. Others need alternative care because the families are experiencing a crisis, or because the needs of the children cannot be met in the home. In most cases, DCYF will be working with the parents to help them to resolve their problems so that children who are in placement can be returned home as soon as it is possible to do so safely.
The quality of care children get while they are away from their homes is crucial. In addition to the problems which caused these children to enter care, each of them will suffer from the trauma of being separated from their families. Most foster children blame themselves because they have to leave home. Some fear all adults are abusive. Some have kept secrets about abuse for so long that they may have difficulty being open and honest. Many do not view the world as a friendly or caring place. Becoming a part of a nurturing foster family can help these children to grow and heal. Since trust and change evolve slowly, foster families need to have tolerance, patience and flexibility.
Foster parents tend to a child's daily needs and help him/her to adjust to their home and family. Each child will have a social worker who will help the foster parents provide the medical, educational and other supportive help that the child will need in order to adjust. Social workers coordinate the effort to reunite the child and his/her family through the provision of regular visitation as well as facilitating counseling as needed.
In order to insure the quality of care provided to the child who is placed outside his/her home, RI State law (42-72.1) mandates that all foster homes be licensed by the Department. The Department has developed specific procedures for processing foster home applications in an effort in insure that each foster home meets minimum standards of health, safety and care.
Prospective foster homes must complete an application. Criminal records checks must be completed on every individual living in the home who is eighteen (18) years of age or older. Additionally, a search of DCYF records is done to determine if there has been previous involvement with DCYF and the nature of the involvement. A fire inspection must be conducted on the home or apartment. A certificate of conformance for lead is required for homes built prior to 1998. A physician's reference must be completed. The prospective foster parent must participate in a course of pre-service training as well as a home study conducted by one of the Department's licensing workers.
DCYF recognizes that foster parents provide an invaluable service to the children in their care and to the community as a whole. In an effort to assist caregivers in their work, DCYF provides a number of support services to the families and children. These services include foster board payments, clothing allowances for the children, child care for foster children of working foster parents, and medical coverage for the children. The Department also assists with the cost of smoke detectors and remote boiler switches.
Other supports available to foster parents are available through Foster Forward. Foster Forward maintains a Help Line to provide information and/or clarify issues. Foster Forward also maintains a Mentor Program for both non-relative and relative foster parents.