A child is placed in foster care when their family cannot care for them. Foster families serve as a temporary substitute family while the child’s parents are given the opportunity to engage in services to help them resolve their challenges and provide a safe home environment. These services might include parenting classes, mental health counseling or chemical dependency treatment.
Washington state faces a chronic shortage in the number of licensed foster families, which means too often children who need foster homes can’t get them. In the 2018 legislative session, State Rep. Paul Graves (R-Fall City) sponsored legislation to help make it easier for prospective foster parents to complete the required training to earn their foster care license by giving them online options for some parts of it. In this Q&A Rep. Graves explains the new law.
Question: What is the law’s purpose?
Answer: The purpose is to make it a little easier to become a foster parent. Right now, you have taken about 40 hours of training before you can apply to get your foster parent license. That’s just as it should be. It’s a tough job, and people should know what they’re getting into. But you must do all of it in person, often at inconvenient hours in inconvenient locations. The goal with this bill is to put the training online, and for the department to allow people to take some, but not all of it, online.
Question: How will the new training work?
Answer: The precise details are still to be worked out. The first step is to put all the training online. The plan then is to consider how much of it can sensibly be taken online, and how to make sure people are actually reviewing the training when they take it online.
Question: What prompted your involvement?
Answer: I’ve worked substantially over my legal career providing free representation for the best interests of foster kids in trial courts. I know how challenging it can be to be a foster parent, and we need more people doing that important work. When talking with people about taking a step to explore becoming a foster parent, this training was regularly mentioned as a stumbling block. We are a high-tech state and our foster parent training should reflect that.
Question: What are some of the biggest challenges foster children face? What can state and local governments do to help address some of those needs?
Answer: You usually don’t go into foster care without a rough home life in the first place. Add on top of that losing everything you’ve known. Then pile on a move to a new and unfamiliar place, often involving a school change and losing connections with your friends and siblings. Any adult facing all of that would struggle, and it’s even more difficult for children. The biggest challenges are personal and cultural, and those are difficult for government to fix. But the state can help by working to make sure that kids go to safe and loving homes, that they are disrupted as little as possible (which is why we need geographic diversity for foster parents), that they get support from school and counselors, and that they move to permanence in their lives as rapidly as feasible.
Question: If you could tell someone thinking about becoming a foster parent just one thing, what would it be?
Answer: You don’t need to be a superhero. You just need to be a reasonable, caring person. Many seek to adopt children in foster care, but we could use a lot more temporary care foster parents. Too often kids are taken from their homes and there is no spot immediately available, so they end up sleeping in hotels or at department offices. Just having a bed and a safe house while permanent care is set up is critical, and that’s a smaller commitment that more people can both take on and that many people don’t know about. If you’ve ever considered being a foster parent, I’d encourage you to take the next step. You might not be able to solve the whole problem, but you can do much good.